Jammie Thomas-Rasset: The download martyr

RIAA fines Brainerd woman $220,000 for 24 songs

The jury was clearly unimpressed. This time they came back with an even bigger damage award: $80,000 per song, for a total of $1.92 million.

The record labels were careful not to look gleeful at the outcome. A spokesman on hand after the verdict told anyone who would listen that the industry had been willing to settle the case all along.

For Thomas-Rasset, the verdict tipped her life over into the realm of the absurd.

Jammie Thomas-Rasset lives with her husband, Chad, and their children in Brainerd
Steve Kohls
Jammie Thomas-Rasset lives with her husband, Chad, and their children in Brainerd

"I couldn't believe it," Thomas-Rasset says. "I mean, at first I was just overwhelmed. But then it was just funny. How were they ever going to collect that money? I'm never going to make that much money in my whole life."

   

JUDGE DAVIS AGREED that the jury's damage award was excessive. In January 2010, he exercised his power to adjust the amount. Calling the $1.92 million figure "monstrous and shocking," he slashed it to $54,000. He gave the RIAA a week to decide if it could live with the lower settlement.

For a moment, it seemed that the labels were considering walking away. The RIAA offered Thomas-Rasset a chance to settle out of court for even less money than the judgment: $25,000.

But she wasn't interested.

"I didn't want to make a deal with these labels. What they're doing with these threats and lawsuits is wrong," Thomas-Rasset says. "I talked to my dad about it, and his advice was, 'You have to fight for what you think is right.'"

So there would be a third trial. This time around, the question of whether Thomas-Rasset willfully infringed wouldn't be up for debate. The only issue would be how much she owed.

Last November, the trial geared up again. Camara and Sibley argued that the kinds of damages the industry was looking for were draconian, especially considering the songs in question could be bought for all of $24. The higher statutory damage range was intended to punish violators making big money off the copyrighted work of others, not small fish sharing the music for no personal gain.

The RIAA once again argued that more severe damages were necessary to protect their business, and hammered Thomas-Rasset for not taking responsibility for her actions.

This time the jury needed just two hours to come to its decision.

The foreman announced the figure: Thomas-Rasset owed $62,500 per song.

She scribbled some calculations on a piece of paper: 24 songs at $62,500 songs came to $1.5 million dollars.

"Even before they announced the verdict, I had my hand in front of my mouth," Thomas-Rasset says. "No matter what the amount of damages was, I knew I was going to be laughing."

   

WATCHING FOOTBALL WITH her family on a recent Saturday, Thomas-Rasset speaks with a resigned calm about the legal battle.

"We're waiting on the judge right now," she says. "We won't know what happens next until we hear from him."

Given that he considered the $1.92 million judgment in the second trial monstrous, it seems likely he will once again knock the jury's penalty down significantly.

But Thomas-Rasset's lawyers are pushing for more than that: They want him to eliminate the damages altogether. In December, they filed an argument that any damages at all in this case are unconstitutional.

Depending on whether Judge Davis agrees, there could be yet another trial over damages. Alternately, the case could be appealed all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This could easily go another four or five years," Thomas-Rasset says. "I'm fine with that. As far as I'm concerned, this whole thing can go as far as it needs to go. In for a penny, in for a pound."

She acknowledges the irony of her situation. The first music-sharing lawsuit to go to trial, her case made the industry look so bad that the RIAA eventually gave up on suing music sharers all together. Now, years after labels have abandoned the strategy that brought her to court in the first place, she's still trapped in a seemingly interminable lawsuit.

"Yeah, it's kind of ridiculous," Thomas-Rasset says. "They know they're never going to get anything from me, but they just can't bear to let me go."

Yet regardless of the outcome, Thomas-Rasset feels it's all been worth it.

"Even if I don't win, I've still stopped them from extorting other people, extorting grandmothers and 12-year-olds," she says. "They were going to keep doing this until someone fought back. I fought back." 

How Americans Get Their Music

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