Jammie Thomas-Rasset, music download martyr, gets penalty reduced to $54,000

Jammie Thomas-Rassett, the Minnesota woman who was originally penalized $1.5 million for downloading and sharing two dozen 80's rock songs, had her penalty reduced to $54,000 by a U.S. District Court Judge on Friday.

Judge Michael Davis's decision knocks about 95 percent off the amount of money Thomas-Rasset would owe to the Recording Industry Association of America.

The penalty in the case has fluctuated wildly: Originally, RIAA tried to bring a fine against Thomas-Rasset of nearly $3.6 million, at a cost of $150,000 per song. Instead, the case went to court, three different times. Davis's ruling obliterates the last jury ruling of $1.5 million in fines.

The ordeal has dragged on for almost six years, but Thomas-Rasset, the subject of a February cover story, tells City Pages she's ready to keep fighting.

"We're trying to get it to the [U.S.] Supreme Court," Thomas-Rasset says. "To tell them, look, this law's on the books ... you can pretty much, for the value of less than two CDs nowadays, you can end up having to pay over $3 million. It has to change."

RIAA has 30 days to file an appeal in the case, which Thomas-Rasset and her lawyers expect. If that happens, Thomas-Rasset will cross-appeal, and the case will continue its way up the legal ladder.

In his decision, Judge Davis called the $1.5 million finding "appalling." Ultimately, Davis ruled that Thomas-Rasset was far from innocent, but that a fine in the millions was assigning too much blame to a single download fiend among the millions who get off scot-free.

"The Court," Davis wrote, "rejects her suggestion that [Thomas-Rasset] caused no harm. At the same time, while online piracy as a whole may have caused billions in damages, there is simply no basis for attributing more than a miniscule portion of that damage to Thomas-Rasset."

Davis faulted Thomas-Rasset for lying in past testimony, and attempting to pass blame on to her ex-boyfriend and children. He also found that Thomas-Rasset could, in theory, have been sharing her songs with an unlimited number of people and committed an untold number of offenses. But not even under those terms was $1.5 million the right amount.

"[A]n award of $1.5 million for stealing and distributing 24 songs for personal use is appalling. Such an award against an individual consumer, of limited means, acting with no attempt to profit, is so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense and obviously unreasonable."

Thomas-Rasset told City Pages she's not thrilled with the new amount she's due to pay, but says it's another step in the right direction.

"It's not a number that we went into it looking for, obviously," Thomas-Rasset says. "Nobody looks to have to pay someone 54 grand for 24 digital songs."

She says she still has those same songs, and while she doesn't go looking for them, they pop up from time to time when she listens to music on "shuffle." She doesn't hold any ill will toward them, she says.

RIAA has not released a statement on whether it will appeal this new decision, and an RIAA spokesperson has not returned phone calls.

Thomas-Rasset said she's been able to put the case to the back of her mind. Her lawyers, Joe Sibley and Kiwi Camara, are taking the case on pro bono, so Thomas-Rasset hasn't spent a dime in her own defense. That's a good thing, because she thinks this case might be around a while.

"This whole situation is just completely surreal," she says. "I honestly don't see this going away for another three to four years, at best."


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