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Woman seeks to cut US$1.92M fine for downloads

A woman ordered to pay US$1.92 million for illegally sharing copyright-protected music is asking a judge to reduce the damages she must pay or grant a new trial, while the recording industry is taking steps to make sure she doesn't share music again.

Last month, a federal jury ruled Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 32, willfully violated the copyrights on 24 songs, and that she must pay US$80,000 per song. In documents filed Monday in US District Court, attorney Kiwi Camera argued this amount is "grossly excessive."

Camera asked that the court either remove the statutory damages from the judgment, order that the damages be reduced to the statutory minimum - which would result in a total award of US$18,000 - or grant a new trial altogether.

"The plaintiffs did not even attempt to offer evidence of their actual injuries, seeking, instead, an award of statutory damages entirely for purposes of punishment and deterrence," Camera wrote, adding that the US$1.92 million figure "shocks the conscience and must be set aside."

He also wrote that civil penalties must relate to a defendant's own conduct and the injury she caused to the plaintiffs. Instead, he said, it seems the damages were awarded not because what Thomas-Rasset did, but because of "the widespread and generalized problem of illegal music downloading."

Camera wrote that if a new trial isn't ordered, Thomas-Rasset would appeal based on evidence he argued should not have been allowed at trial.

This case was the only one of more than 30,000 similar lawsuits to make it all the way to trial. The vast majority of people targeted by the music industry had settled for about US$3,500 each. The recording industry has said it stopped filing such lawsuits last August and is instead working with Internet service providers to fight the worst offenders.

The Recording Industry Association of America had previously offered to settle this case, and Thomas-Rasset had been given the chance to settle for US$3,000 to US$5,000.

RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said Monday the industry is still willing to settle, and would have preferred that option from the beginning.

The huge judgment came after Thomas-Rasset's second trial. In 2007, a different federal jury awarded a US$222,000 judgment. The new trial was ordered after U.S. District Judge Michael Davis decided he had erred in giving jury instructions.

At the time of the verdict, Thomas-Rasset called the US$1.92 million figure "kind of ridiculous." The mother of four said she's of limited means and couldn't pay that much.

Under federal law, the recording companies are entitled to US$750 to US$30,000 per infringement but the law allows the jury to raise that to as much as US$150,000 per track if it finds the infringements were willful.

Messages left for Thomas-Rasset and for her attorney were not returned Monday.

In other court filings Monday, attorneys for the recording industry want Davis to bar Thomas-Rasset from downloading music, sharing music files and distributing songs to the public. Attorney Timothy Reynolds wrote that Thomas-Rasset distributed more than 1,700 songs to millions of others through the file-sharing system Kazaa. Those users, in turn, are likely to distribute the recordings even further, Reynolds wrote.

"The extent of the viral, or exponential, infringement set in motion by Defendant is literally incalculable," Reynolds wrote. "Absent an injunction, there is nothing to stop Defendant from downloading and distributing more of Plaintiffs' copyrighted sound recordings through an online media distribution system."

The companies that sued Thomas-Rasset are subsidiaries of all four major recording companies, Warner Music Group Corp., Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group, EMI Group PLC and Sony Corp.'s Sony Music Entertainment.

Reynolds also wants the judge to order that Thomas-Rasset destroy all copies of recordings she has downloaded without authorization.


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