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21 Mar, 2013 02:42

Supreme Court approves $222k fine for 24 illegally downloaded songs

Supreme Court approves $222k fine for 24 illegally downloaded songs

US Supreme Court judges have turned down an appeal from a woman who was ordered to pay $222,000 for illegally downloading 24 songs on the now defunct file sharing service Kazaa. The White House advised the court to side with the recording industry.

The March 18 decision to not review the case marks the culmination of a five-year-long suit that made headlines as much over the proposed fine as for being evidence of the music industry’s difficultly in adapting to the Internet age.

Native American Jammie Thomas-Rasset was the first American to challenge a punishment from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), calling the ruling unconstitutionally excessive. Her path through the American court system began in 2007 and has led to three verdicts.

The first judge to hear Thomas-Rasset’s case determined she was responsible for paying copyright holders $222,000 for downloading 24 songs. Court documents reveal that she had initially been accused of downloading 1,702 music files, but the RIAA only sought compensation for two dozen.

Later, on appeal, the judge admitted he had accidentally given the jury incorrect instructions and ruled against the defendant to the tune of $1.92 million - almost $90,000 per song.

Thomas-Rasset appealed that decision as well, at which point the judge dropped the fine to a total of $54,000 in 2009. Another trial the following year ruled in favor of the RIAA for $1.5 million. That number was again reduced to $54,000, before a September 2012 decision that saw the appeals court reinstate the original $222,000 penalty.

The Supreme Court refused to listen to her case at least in part because of a recommendation from the Obama administration, which submitted a brief supporting the RIAA.

An award of statutory damages under the Copyright Act does not simply redress a private injury, but also serves to vindicate an important public interest,” the brief read. “That public interest cannot be realized if the inherent difficulty of proving actual damages leaves the copyright holder without an effective remedy for infringement or precludes an effective means of deterring further copyright violations.”

The judges offered no comment regarding their decision, but Thomas-Rasset, 35, said she has no intention of paying the penalty, and even if she did, there's no way she would be able to do so.

There’s no way they can collect,” she said. “Right now I get energy assistance because I have four kids. It’s just one income. My husband isn’t working. It’s not possible for them to collect even if they wanted to. I have no assets.”

Thomas-Rasset works on the Mille Lacs Band of the Ojibwe tribal government in Minnesota. The RIAA initially offered her the chance to pay a sum total $5,000 and then $25,000, both of which she turned down before going to court.

As I’ve said from the beginning, I do not have now, nor do I anticipate in the future, having $220,000 to pay this,” she told Wired Magazine. “If they do try and collect, I will file for bankruptcy as I have no other option.”