Eye-Popping Statutory Damage Award in File-Sharing Retrial

Last year, the trial judge who presided over the trial of accused file-sharer Jammie Thomas suggested that the jury’s award of $222,000 in statutory damages in the first trial may have been excessive.

So it’s interesting to speculate what the judge might make of the damages a jury just awarded to the record label plaintiffs in the Jammie Thomas retrial: $1.92 million — more than 8 times the amount awarded in the first trial, or $80,000 (based on the jury’s finding of willfulness) for each of the 24 works Thomas infringed.  Remittitur motion, anyone?

With a seemingly impecunious litigant like Thomas, it probably makes little difference whether the jury awarded $1,920,000, or $222,000, or “a bazillion kajillion dollars”; I know of nobody who seriously expects the record labels to see more than a tiny fraction of the recompense from Thomas they claim they are owed.  And, as I’ve noted before, if you want to campaign for reducing the maximum statutory damage awards for copyright infringement, Thomas is probably not the most sympathetic candidate to make that argument.

It’s certainly an extraordinary number, however, and it just shows how quickly individual acts of file-sharing can pile up into multi-million-dollar liability under current law.

UPDATE: EFF’s Fred von Lohmann ably tees up the constitutional excessiveness issue also raised by Derek following my earlier post. Not a topic upon which I feel qualified to opine, but see Fred’s post and judge for yourself.

3 Responses to “Eye-Popping Statutory Damage Award in File-Sharing Retrial”

  1. There’s an additional problem here. This case was looked at by two juries who reviewed, basically, the same evidence, but came to vastly different conclusions about the amount of damages. What does it say about the US judicial system (and, possibly, the status of Copyright damages law) when $1.7M turns, basically, on the whim of a jury?

    It would be an interesting study to talk to the jurors from both trials and compare notes.

  2. This is an interesting point. Given, though, that the jury found Thomas liable for willful infringement, is there an argument that her conduct in this trial is particularly indicative of willfulness? Her story on the stand seemed particularly problematic.
    I agree with Tim: this was a bad test case / cause celebre. Bad facts. I don’t doubt that the damages will get knocked down by the trial judge or on appeal, but the fact remains that this is a significant defeat.

  3. Strong point by Chris and excellent post.
    I wander how this would have gone in any European court, where appeal to Brussels cannot be overruled and human rights still mean something (in regard to the amount of damages rewarded).
    Will using services like Tor et co. count for willful infringement as well?