Guilty: Woman Fined $1.92M for Music File Sharing

Dennis Faas's picture

Legal experts believe a $1.92 million fine imposed on a Minnesota woman for illegally sharing copyrighted music files could prompt a change in the law. Even if Jammie Thomas-Rasset fails in a potential constitutional challenge, anger over the size of the fine may force Congress to rewrite the rules.

Double Whammy: Fine Skyrockets from $222,000 to $1,920,000

Thomas-Rasset was originally found to have broken copyright laws in 2007 after a court heard she had shared more than a thousand songs on the Kazaa file sharing network, though only 24 were officially cited in the case. A jury ordered her to pay a fine of $9,250 per track, a total of $222,000.

The judge later threw out the verdict after concluding that he had been wrong to advise the jury that the act of simply sharing the files inherently constituted the "making available" required for a conviction. However, a new trial which concluded last Friday again ruled against Thomas-Rasset. This time the new jury decided she should pay $80,000 per track, an eye-watering $1.92 million.

Bankruptcy An Option

There's pretty much no prospect of Jammie paying that sum given her financial circumstances. It's even possible she could set a legal precedent by declaring bankruptcy and wiping out the fines. Until last year that would have been impossible as bankruptcy does not exclude people from fines for willful copyright infringement.

However, a separate case last year ruled that while in trials "willful" only means the offender knew what they were doing. In bankruptcy law it also requires malice, meaning the offender deliberately set out to cause harm. If Thomas-Rasset were to successfully discharge her fine through bankruptcy, it would (while still a heavy price personally) mean any future mega-fines awarded by juries in copyright cases were meaningless. (Source:

Lawyers Seek Copyright Law Reform

Thomas-Rasset's legal team has also talked of a potential constitutional challenge to the copyright law involved. That's because the law allows for juries to award statutory damages of between $750 and $150,000 for every offence, which the lawyers believe violates the 8th Amendment's ban on "excessive fines".

There are also calls for Congress to change the law to give judges the ability to lower jury awards where they seem especially out of line with the actual damages caused. Ed Black, head of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said "Copyright law was created in a different era for different business models. It needs to be reformed." (Source:

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