The individual defendants in two high profile peer to peer song sharing cases, Capitol v. Thomas-Rasset and Sony v. Tenenbaum, recently faced major defeats in challenges over high statutory damages awarded against them. This raises questions as to the roles of judges and juries in determining the fairness and proportionality of statutory damages in copyright infringement cases. These litigation sagas have been closely watched in copyright circles, and it is important to trace their development throughout the years to appreciate the importance of the current decisions.
Let’s first start with Capitol v. Thomas. Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a single mom of four children from Minnesota, downloaded and shared 24 songs through the now-defunct Kazaa. In 2006, six major recording companies filed a complaint against Thomas alleging copyright infringement. In 2007, a jury found Thomas guilty of willful infringement, and awarded $222,000 in damages ($9,250 per song). Thomas then filed for and was granted a new trial. After a second trial in 2009, a jury again found Thomas guilty of willful infringement and awarded statutory damages of $1,920,000 ($80,000 per song).