Woman Faces $220,000 Music Piracy Judgment as Supreme Court Declines Appeal

When the Supreme Court denied a Minnesota woman’s effort to appeal a $220,000 judgment for illegally downloading music, it was a reminder of a way that the record business tried to fight piracy.

Suing individuals may have had success on the legal front, but it was not so savvy as a P.R. strategy. In fact, the recording industry in 2008 stopped filing new lawsuits against individuals, instead focusing on the source of pirated music like file sharing sites, and putting resources into a recently deployed series of copyright alerts.

With word that the high court had declined to hear Thomas-Rasset vs. Capitol Records, the Recording Industry Assn. of America was quick to point out that it had offered $5,000 to settle at the start of the case, and later offered to settle for $25,000 to go to the MusiCares charity, but she again refused. “We appreciate the Court’s decision and are pleased that the legal case is finally over,” the RIAA said in a statement. “We’ve been willing to settle this case from day one and remain willing to do so.”

The record business sued Jammie Thomas-Rasset in 2006, presenting evidence through three different trials and several appeals that she had downloaded more than 1,700 songs on Kazaa. They brought legal action on 24 songs.

Most of the thousands of cases that the music industry filed settled, often for several thousand dollars. Thomas-Rasset told the Associated Press on Monday that she doesn’t have the means to pay. “It’s not possible for them to collect even if they wanted to. I have no assets.”

Her attorney, Kiwi Camara, said that they “are disappointed by the decision.” But he predicted that the issue of the hefty fines will come to the Supreme Court again in another case, that involving a Boston University student slapped with a $675,000 judgment. That litigation is on appeal in the 1st Circuit.

In Thomas-Rasset’s petition for review, Camara argued that the judgment was excessive and wrote that she “cannot be punished for the harm inflicted on the recording industry by file sharing in general.”

The Justice Department, in an amicus brief, sided with the RIAA, arguing that the $9,250-per-song damages fell within the range of statutory damages. The RIAA said in its brief that “in addition to the mountain of evidence establishing Thomas-Rasset’s liability for willful infringement, [the record industry] also adduced substantial evidence of the significant damage that illegal file sharing has caused them.”

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