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RIAA File-Sharing Case Restarts

15 Jun, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

Jury selection began June 15 in the retrial of Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a Minnesota mother of two who lost an unprecedented anti-piracy decision to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in October 2007.

Thomas-Rasset was accused by the RIAA of illegally sharing two dozen songs on a file-sharing service in 2005, and when she lost her jury trial was ordered to pay more than $220,000 for the violations. It was the first music file-sharing case ever to go to trial.
However, the United States District Court judge ruled in September 2008 that a retrial was warranted, after he erred in telling jurors that the RIAA companies did not have to prove that anyone actually downloaded the songs Thomas-Rasset allegedly shared.

“Based on the court’s error in instructing the jury, it grants Thomas a new trial,” the judge wrote in his September decision to grant a new trial. “Because the court grants a new trial on the basis of jury instruction error, it does not reach Thomas’s claim regarding excessive damages set forth in her motion for a new trial.”

The RIAA announced in December 2008 that it was done prosecuting those who download and share music, after threatening tens of thousands of individuals over the practice, instead working with Internet Service Providers to go after Web sites offering illegal fire-sharing services. However, it isn’t dropping its case against Thomas-Rasset.

Fred von Lohmann with the Electronic Frontier Foundation said the judge in the case has hit both sides with orders that could change the outcome: Thomas-Rasset’s defense can’t use fair use as an argument, while the RIAA has to address whether the songs were actually downloaded. Thomas-Rasset’s defense may be to say the RIAA has the wrong person, he said.

“Any litigator will tell you, every jury is different, and it’s hard to make predictions,” von Lohmann said. “I think it’ll be over by the end of this week or the beginning of next week.”


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