This is big: Judge orders new RIAA trial

In a decision that could have far-reaching implications for future lawsuits by the record industry involving peer-to-peer networks, the judge who was hearing the Jammie Thomas case has thrown out the decision in that case, effectively declaring a mistrial, saying he now believes he was wrong to have instructed the jury that simply “making available” copyrighted files was enough to find Thomas guilty of copyright infringement. In the original case, the judge said that it was not necessary to show that anyone had actually download the files, but he now believes that this was wrong, and that actual distribution must be shown, not just that the files were available:

The Court’s examination of the use of the term “distribution” in other provisions of the Copyright Act, as well as the evolution of liability for offers to sell in the analogous Patent Act, lead to the conclusion that the plain meaning of the term “distribution” does not including making available and, instead, requires actual dissemination.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation describes, this is effectively the exact argument that the EFF and others made after the original ruling. But that’s not all: the judge also takes pains in his decision to implore the goverment to reconsider the egregious financial penalties that are attached to such offences in the law, penalties that saw Thomas ordered to pay more than $200,000 for just 24 copyrighted files:

While the Court does not discount Plaintiffs’ claim that, cumulatively, illegal downloading has far-reaching effects on their businesses, the damages awarded in this case are wholly disproportionate to the damages suffered by Plaintiffs. Thomas allegedly infringed on the copyrights of 24 songs—the equivalent of approximately three CDs, costing less than $54, and yet the total damages 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.

Bravo to Judge Davis on both counts.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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