New Trial in Music Downloading Case

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The trial court ordered a new trial in the RIAA's lawsuit against Jammie Thomas for making 24 copyrighted songs available through the file sharing software KaZaa. The decision hinged on whether the court's jury instruction, that a defendant may violate the Copyright Act merely by making a work available for distribution on a peer-to-peer network, without proof of actual distribution, was an accurate statement of the law. The court ruled that it had erred in the instruction, because "distribution" as defined in section 106 of the Act requires actual distribution. The court held that merely making the songs available in a shared folder was not a distribution. The court discussed that in other parts of the Act, and in other laws, making a work available was enough to constitute a distribution. However, the court held that those definitions were not relevant to the definition under section 106, but rather showed that if congress had wanted merely making a work available to constitute a distribution, it would have defined distribution in seciton 106 in the same way. Unfortunately for the defendant, the court also said that the act of RIAA's investigators downloading the songs could constitute the actual distribution. Read the decision on Wired's site here.

An interesting part of the case that had no bearing on the new trial order was the court's discussion of the damage award:

 While the Court does not discount Plaintiffs' claim that, cumulatively,illegal downloading has far‐reaching effects on their businesses, the damagesawarded in this case are wholly disproportionate to the damages suffered byPlaintiffs. Thomas allegedly infringed on the copyrights of 24 songs ‐ the equivalent of approximately three CDs, costing less than $54, and yet the totaldamages awarded is $222,000 - more than five hundred times the cost of buying 24 separate CDs and more than four thousand times the cost of three CDs.