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Appeals court says woman owes record companies $222,000 after sharing music on ‘net

Dan Browning, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

A Minnesota woman found guilty of copyright violations for using music-sharing software on the Internet will have to pay $222,000 after all.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday ordered Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis to reinstate the judgment against Jammie Thomas-Rasset, of Brainerd. Davis had cut the award to $54,000.

Thomas-Rasset became the target of a high-profile lawsuit by several music industry organizations in 2005 when an online investigative firm called MediaSentry discovered that she’d been using a peer-to-peer network program called KaZaA.

Thomas-Rasset refused to settle with the organizations that enforce the copyrights of musicians, and a jury in Minneapolis awarded the plaintiffs $222,000 in October 2007.

Davis decided after the trial concluded that he erred in a jury instruction. After a hearing, he granted her a new trial, holding that making a copyrighted work available to the public is not “distribution” under the law. That issue has divided the courts.

After a second trial, jurors awarded the plaintiffs $1.92 million. Davis found that amount “shocking” under the circumstances and reduced the award to $54,000. The plaintiffs refused the award, and a third trial was held in November 2010 to determine the amount of damages. This time, jurors awarded the plaintiffs $1.5 million.

Thomas-Rasset appealed the amount of the award, arguing it was a violation of the Due Process clause of the U.S. Constitution. Davis agreed and reduced the award to $54,000 again.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court reversed his decision in an 18-page opinion and remanded the case with instructions to reinstate the $222,000 judgment.

The panel declined to decide whether making copyrighted materials available for download violates federal law. But it did find that Davis should have enjoined Thomas-Rasset from doing so, as the industry plaintiffs had requested.

“An injunction against making recordings available was lawful and appropriate under the circumstances, even accepting the district court’s interpretation of the Copyright Act,” Judge Steven M. Colloton of Des Moines, Iowa, wrote for the panel.

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