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Judge may retry RIAA's Thomas case

updated 01:35 pm EDT, Tue August 5, 2008

Judge May Retry RIAA Case

A ruling in favor of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) may be overturned and set a precedent for file sharing, according to remarks made by the presiding judge in the case. District Judge Michael Davis now expresses doubts over a decision which fined defendant Jammie Thomas $222,000 for allegedly trading 24 songs through KaZaA, arguing that a closer review of the US Copyright Act used as the foundation of the case suggests that a retrial may be necessary. The Act requires actual proof of an illegal transfer rather than the simpler act of exposing the content through a public folder. Without the former evidence, the previous decision against Thomas may no longer hold weight, according to Judge Davis.

The judge won't commit to a decision until the end of September but makes strong allusions to a likely declaration of a mistrial, which would force the RIAA to present a new case that clearly proves songs were illegally transferred from Thomas' PC to others without label permission. Judge Davis in May had already suggested the fine may have been a mistake and maintains this position today.

"Certainly, I have sent a signal to both sides of where I'm headed," he says.

The RIAA at the hearing maintained its past objections to these interpretations of the Copyright Act, contending that illegal transfers are implied by virtue of making the content available and that KaZaA and other peer-to-peer services are used explicitly in this way. Such downloads are conducted "behind a veil" and hurt music labels without any viable way to track them, says RIAA attorney Donald Verrilli Jr.

Thomas' own attorney, Brian Toder, countered the argument by warning that it would create a dangerous new precedent for right of recovery, allowing the RIAA and other organizations to collect fines without having to prove an actual violation. Test downloads by the RIAA from Thomas' KaZaA account don't count as the RIAA owns the rights to the music it downloaded, the legal representative adds.

While a retrial won't necessarily hand victory to Thomas, a successfully altered verdict would deal a blow to the RIAA's approach of deterring transfers of bootleg tracks. The American music organization has so far relied on intimidating suspected file sharers through lawsuits and encouraging them to settle out of court for thousands of dollars rather than face a costlier trial to challenge the merits of the case.

by MacNN Staff




  1. JulesLt

    Joined: Dec 1969


    $50 fine

    What's annoying is that the RIAA are right on one level - sharing files on Kazaa or the like, even if they're not actually downloaded should be counted as a form of publishing / counter-feighting.

    The problem is with the scale of the damages, which are ridiculous, and obviously done to make an example out of one person.

    As a 'crime' it's actually up there with littering, graffiti, parking violoation and speeding - social nuisance - and the response we have for that is small fines and community sentences.

    And yes, there are, of course, people who regularly speed and contest any fine in court because 'it's not enforcable'.

  1. Feathers

    Joined: Dec 1969


    $50 fine

    There should also be a fine for posting a comment without using the "check spelling" button!

  1. MyRightEye

    Joined: Dec 1969


    ahh... speeding is not...

    a social nuisance, it's a life threatening behavior. What worst, is most speeder drive rusty decrepit junk piles with worn shocks tires and inexperienced drivers. These people kill people.

  1. hansmickle

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Implied = guilt?

    When I have lustful thoughts that implies a potential for criminal actions. Should I then be imprisoned/fined?

    And let's not get off subject whether speeding is just a nuisance. What does that have to do with the issue that the article is dealing with?

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Get off the speeding thread. That is an actual law that you go to court (like if you stole something). This case is civil in nature and not being prosecuted by the gov't. Rules in civil cases are much different.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969



    What's annoying is that the RIAA are right on one level - sharing files on Kazaa or the like, even if they're not actually downloaded should be counted as a form of publishing / counter-feighting.

    Sorry, but it is not. You also are making the assumption that someone intended to make their files shareable. As people say here, there are valid reasons for P2P file sharing. And some P2P programs are known to, stupidly, share everything unless you tell it not to.

    The bigger issues with this is that file sharing isn't a problem. The RIAA likes to pretend, but it isn't. They lose a lot more money with those who actually counterfeit (wow, that's how it is spelled) and sell bootleg copies of music, movies, etc. Those are the ones they should go after, but that's apparently too hard, so they go after some woman who shared up some 24 files.

    And maybe someone should ask the RIAA how someone who's bought a set of MP3s (or, worse, DRM-protected music) can use their fair-use rights to legally transfer this music to another entity, as is allowed by law?

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