The $1.5 Million Verdict

The RIAA’s first file-swapping case ever to go to court results in a verdict ordering a Minnesota woman to pay $1.5 mil for her copyright-infringing ways.

If ever you needed to associate a face with the old adage about quitting while ahead, Brainerd, Minn., resident Jammie Thomas-Rasset’s mug is a perfect fit. When the Recording Industry Association of America first contacted her about illicit song-trading via the Kazaa P2P client, the trade organization offered to settle with her to the tune of $5,000.

In retrospect, that $5,000 might have been a bargain. By law the labels can seek anywhere from $750 to $30,000 per infringement, or as much as $150,000 if the court rules the infringing activity was willful. Plus, Thomas-Rasset allegedly had thousands of songs on her hard drive although the recording industry sought damages for 24 infringements. So that five grand must seem like small change these days.

But Rasset denied any wrongdoing and went to court in 2007 where she was ordered to pay $222,000 in damages, which works out to $9,250 per song.

However, feeling he might have erred when giving instructions to the jury, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ordered a new trial where once again the jury sided with the labels and ordered Thomas-Rasset to pay damages, upping the price to $1.92 million or $80,000 per song.

But that didn’t stick either. Calling the amount “monstrous and shocking,” Davis ordered a new trial, which concluded this week with that $1.5 million verdict.

So far, Thomas-Rasset is going with the response she had when the first two trial verdicts were announced – she doesn’t have the cash to pay the damage judgments.

“I can’t afford to pay any amount,” Thomas-Rasset said. “It’s not a matter of won’t, it’s a matter of ‘I can’t.’ Any amount that I pay to them is money that I could use to feed my children. Any amount that I pay to them is money I could use to clothe my kids, and pay my mortgage so my kids have a place to sleep.”

Thomas-Rasset’s attorney, Kiwi Camara, said he has 30 days to submit arguments claiming the damage amount is unconstitutional. What’s more, Camara is also arguing that his client should pay only $24 in damages, roughly the same amount the songs would have cost if purchased on iTunes.

But Thomas-Rasset still denies any illicit song-trading and has called the three damage judgments against her “legalized extortion.”

Meanwhile, the labels are waiting for their check.

“People forget about all of the individuals who work really hard to make music for a living,” RIAA representative Cara Duckworth said. “These people are negatively impacted whenever music is stolen and distributed to millions of people.”