The Obama Administration has stepped into a long-running file-sharing lawsuit in Minnesota, urging the United States Supreme Court not to get involved in a six-figure verdict against a young mother from Northern Minnesota. The feds don't buy the woman's argument that the massive size of the award makes it unconstitutional.
Jammie Thomas-Rasset has been fighting a recording industry lawsuit accusing her of sharing music using the now-defunct peer-to-peer network Kazaa for the better part of a decade. In 2007, a jury found Thomas-Rasset liable to the tune of $222,000 for sharing 24 songs. She appealed the verdict, resulting in two more trials that each produced even larger jury awards. These higher figures were thrown out by the courts, but last year, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the $222,000 award.
Thomas-Rasset is now seeking review by the Supreme Court. In a December brief, her lawyer drew an analogy to a line of Supreme Court decisions regarding excessive punitive damages. In those cases, juries had awarded punitive damages that were more than 100 times larger than the actual damages suffered by the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court held that such disproportionate punitive damages violate the due process clause of the Constitution.
Technically, the "statutory damages" Thomas-Rasset is facing are not classified as punitive damages. But her lawyer argues that the same logic ought to apply. The 24 songs at issue in the case can be downloaded from iTunes for $24, yet she is being ordered to pay almost 10,000 times as much for sharing them with others.
Thomas-Rasset's lawyer notes that Thomas-Rasset's trial judge "called for relief from Congress, and throughout his opinions called the statutory damages sought by the recording industry harsh and oppressive."