Our group spends a significant amount of time working on issues relating to the transformation of copyright and trademark laws in the 21st century. I am particularly passionate about and interested in how the Internet and other new technologies challenge these dynamic areas of law. For my first blog post, I revisited a few of what I see as the most influential cases of 2010.
Capitol Records Inc. v. Thomas-Rasset, No. 06-1497*
680 F.Supp.2d 1045 (D. Minn. Jan. 22, 2010)
Overview: In January, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Michael Davis for the District of Minnesota remitted a 2009 jury award of statutory damages totaling $1.92 million against defendant Jammie Thomas-Rasset by 97% to $54,000. This damages award arose from claims that Thomas-Rasset willfully infringed plaintiffs’ copyrights by downloading 24 songs using the Kazaa peer-to-peer network. Judge Davis held that although Plaintiffs highlight valid reasons that Thomas‐Rasset should pay a statutory damages award, the Judge ruled that these facts simply could not justify a $2 million verdict in this case. He further opined that although this new award was still three times the statutory minimum, this reduced award remains “significant and harsh” and should sufficiently serve both the deterrent and the compensatory purposes of statutory damages.
Judgment in a Civil Case: Civil File No. 06‐1497 (MJD/LIB)
Overview: The plaintiffs rejected the reduced damage award and, instead, asked for a new trial on damages. On November 4, the jury returned a verdict awarding statutory damages in the amount of $62,500 for each of 24 songs for a total amount of $1.5 million.
Takeaways: P2P file-sharing cases are having a profound impact on the future of copyright as applied to individual users of online platforms. Judges in at least two jurisdictions have changed the jury awards -- both citing them unconscionable -- potentially leading to not only a split in future appeals but also calls for legislation from all sides.