Appeals Court Considers File-Sharer's Case

Attorneys for file-sharer Jammie Thomas-Rasset seemingly won a major victory against the Recording Industry Association of America in 2008, when U.S. District Court Michael Davis ruled that merely making tracks available on a peer-to-peer network didn't infringe copyright.

Instead, he ruled, the RIAA must prove that someone else downloaded the tracks that Thomas-Rasset uploaded. At the time, he vacated a jury's finding of liability and its decision that Thomas-Rasset should pay $220,000. He then ordered a new trial.

Unfortunately for Thomas-Rasset, that victory proved pyrrhic. Subsequent proceedings resulted in an award of $1.5 million.

The trial judge found the large award unconstitutional and reduced it to $54,000. Both sides appealed. Thomas-Rasset says that even $54,000 is too high, while the RIAA says that the $1.5 million award was constitutional.

The RIAA also says that the first verdict for $220,000 should never have been vacated. That's because the RIAA still wants a ruling on the books stating that merely making tracks available infringes copyright.

Ironically, Thomas-Rasset now also has no objection to a ruling stating that merely making tracks available infringes copyright, given that such a ruling will reinstate the $220,000 verdict -- which is better for Thomas-Rasset than the $1.5 million order.

"I think the court should grant the other side the relief they sought in their brief," Thomas-Rasset's lawyer told a panel of the 8th Circuit this week. He added that such a result would be "better for our individual client" -- even if it's also more helpful to the RIAA in the future.

An audio transcript of the hearing doesn't give too many clues as to what the court intends to do. But attorney Ray Beckerman, who posted a link to the recording, offered the prediction that the court will affirm Davis. If so, the $54,000 award will stand, as will the decision that merely making tracks available doesn't infringe copyright.

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