“$2 Million for Stealing 24 Songs for Personal Use is Simply Shocking” Says Minnesota Federal Judge, Issuing Remittitur Order

by Lee Gesmer on January 23, 2010

“$2 Million for Stealing 24 Songs for Personal Use is Simply Shocking” Says Minnesota Federal Judge, Issuing Remittitur Order

Out of more than 30,000 cases filed against downloaders by the record companies only two end-user download cases have gone to trial and judgment: the Tenenbaum case in Boston, and the case against Jammie Thomas-Rassett in Minnesota.

In the second case, the jury awarded the copyright owners $2 million for downloading (and allegedly distributing) 24 songs.  The federal judge to whom the case is assigned has now lowered that amount to $2,250 per song (the legal term of the judge’s action is “remittitur”).

Some quotes from the Thomas-Rassett January 22, 2010 decision:

After long and careful deliberation, the Court . . . remits the damages award to $2,250 per song – three times the statutory minimum. The need for deterrence cannot justify a $2 million verdict for stealing and illegally distributing 24 songs for the sole purpose of obtaining free music. . . . although Plaintiffs were not required to prove their actual damages, statutory damages must still bear some relation to actual damages.

. . .  This reduced award is significant and harsh. It is a higher
award than the Court might have chosen to impose in its sole discretion, but the decision was not entrusted to this Court.

. . . Thomas‐Rasset argues that the ratio of the statutory damages award to actual damages in this case, when measured in songs, is 1:62,015. She bases this calculations on a cost of $1.29 per song online.

. . .  Thomas‐Rasset asserts that, at most, she was a single mother who merely downloaded and shared music when she had already lawfully bought CDs of much of that music and had no commercial motive to infringe.

. . .  The need for deterrence cannot justify a $2 million verdict for stealing and illegally distributing 24 songs for the sole purpose of obtaining free music.

. . .  The Court will not substitute its judgment for the judgment of the jury. Rather, it will remit the award to the maximum amount sustainable by the record, so that the statutory damages award is no longer shocking or monstrous.

It will be interesting to see if this decision has any impact on Judge Nancy Gertner, the federal judge assigned to the Tenenbaum case in Boston.  In that case, the jury awarded $22,500 for each work infringed, and a motion for remittitur is pending.

Here is a link to the full opinion in Thomas-Rasset:

Thomas-Rasset Remittatur Order

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