Judge Reduces Minn. Woman's $2 Million RIAA Copyright Fine

A Minnesota judge orders the reduction of mother of four Jammie Thomas-Rasset's fine by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to about $54,000, down from $1.92 million a jury previously awarded the organization.

The Recording Industry Association of America, the music organization that in June 2009 won a lawsuit against a Minnesota woman for allegedly downloading 24 songs, had its original fine of $1.92 million reduced by Minnesota federal judge Michael Davis. According to the ruling, the original penalty imposed by a jury on Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a mother of four and a Brainard, Minn., resident, will be reduced to about $54,000, or $2,250 per song.

Davis ruled the original judgment to be a "monstrous and shocking" figure to pay-the nearly $2 million penalty represented a fee of more than $83,000 per song.

"It's easier for me to wrap my brain around $54,000 than $1.92 million," Thomas-Rasset told Minnesota Public Radio. "Obviously, I still won't be able to come up with 54 grand to pay this off. But that's a decision that I, right at this moment, I still don't have to make."

In writing the court opinion, Davis said the fine could not be justified despite acknowledging a need for deterrence of illegal downloading and sharing of music.

In a phone interview with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune newspaper, Thomas-Rasset said while any reduction was a good development, she still plants to appeal the decision and has claimed to be innocent since the trial's start. "As far as I'm concerned, I don't have $50,000 to hand over," she told the paper. "But I'm not going to worry about that until everything is set in stone."

In October 2007, Davis presided over the case of Capitol v. Thomas. The RIAA, a trade group of recording companies, filed suit against Thomas-Rasset (then just Thomas) for copyright infringement for 24 songs that she had shared on Kazaa, including tracks by artists such as Aerosmith, Green Day and Janet Jackson. The file-sharing trial, in which the defendant was fined $9,250 for each of the 24 downloaded songs, for a total of $222,000, ended with the judge declaring a mistrial, and the new trial granted $1.92 million in damages.

The RIAA has launched more than 35,000 cases against people accused of illegal music downloads, with the substantial bulk of them settled out of court, often for comparatively miniscule amounts of money. Despite the ubiquity of peer-to-peer networks, the RIAA has taken something of a scorched-earth approach to digital piracy, sending dozens of letters to individuals it suspects of downloading content.