Jammie Thomas, the Minnesota resident ordered to pay $222,000 to the RIAA last October, may get a second shot at trial due to a controversial – and possibly misleading – jury instruction.
In October, when Capitol Records v. Jammie Thomas wrapped up, members of the jury were told that the act of making music available for download was all that was needed to prove that Thomas infringed record labels’ copyrights – attorneys for the RIAA compared this to someone displaying pirate DVDs for sale at a table. The instruction likely cost Thomas her victory and a short while later the jury awarded plaintiffs $222,000 in damages for Thomas’ act of “making available” 24 songs for download.
Now, however, U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. Davis now thinks that the “making available” instruction was a mistake. He says that he found a 1993 ruling from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that requires “actual dissemination of either copies or phonorecords.” An Arizona ruling entered on similar arguments was revoked late last April, he added, and earlier this month a Florida federal court reached the same conclusion.
Neither side in Capitol v. Thomas presented the 1993 decision to him, said Davis. Oral arguments on whether or not a new trial will be held on July 1 in Duluth, Minnesota.
With precedent quickly shifting away from the content industry’s favor, the RIAA doesn’t seem fazed: “If we have to retry the case, we’ll do so without hesitation,” said RIAA attorney Richard Gabriel. Record companies can still prove that Thomas violated copyright, because files found on her computer have the same signatures as known pirated recordings – files that Thomas claims were copied from CDs. Beyond that, says Gabriel, evidence that investigators working for the RIAA were able to download music from her computer is more than sufficient to win a second trial.
“We've been saying all along that it was submitted to the jury on an improper theory,” said attorney and Recording Industry vs. The People co-author Ray Beckerman. “Now the judge recognizes his error and he realizes he was misled by record industry lawyers.”