Friday, 26 September 2008

US Woman Convicted of Music Theft Granted New Trial

A US judge granted a new trial to a woman convicted of pirating music files and denounced the awarding of $222,000 in damages to record companies as "wholly disproportionate" and "oppressive."

Jammie Thomas, a single mother from Minnesota, was convicted last October in the first such online piracy case in the United States for sharing 24 songs through the Kazaa file-sharing network.

She was ordered to pay $220,000 or $9,250 per song, in damages to six record companies: Capital Records, Sony BMG Music, Arista Records, Interscope Records, Warner Bros. Records and UMG Recordings.

But the judge who presided over the case ordered a new trial on Wednesday saying he had erred in his instructions to the jury with his interpretation of whether Thomas had actually distributed the music or not.

Chief Judge Michael Davis of the US District Court based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, said the jury instructions had "Substantially prejudiced Thomas's rights." He said "Based on the Court's error in instructing the jury, it grants Thomas a new trial."

In his ruling, Davis also called on the US Congress to amend the Copyright Act and condemned the jury's damages award against Thomas.

Noting that she "sought no profit from her acts," Davis wrote that "Thomas's conduct was motivated by her desire to obtain the copyrighted music for her own use.

"The Court does not condone Thomas's actions, but it would be a farce to say that a single mother's acts of using Kazaa are the equivalent, for example, to the acts of global financial firms illegally infringing on copyrights in order to profit in the securities market," he said.

"The damages awarded in this case are wholly disproportionate to the damages suffered by Plaintiffs.

"Her alleged acts were illegal, but common," the judge added. "Her status as a consumer who was not seeking to harm her competitors or make a profit does not excuse her behaviour. But it does make the award of hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages unprecedented and oppressive."

The Recording Industry Association of America and major music labels have brought suit against thousands of people in the United States for illegally downloading and sharing music, with most agreeing to settlements of between $3,000 and $5,000.

Thomas was the first among those being sued to refuse a settlement and instead took the case to court.

Industry analysts say illegal music downloading and file-sharing remains prevalent despite the surge in interest in legal music sites such as Apple's iTunes.

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