In a recently issued opinion, Judge Davis has granted Jammie Thomas a new trial, overturning an earlier verdict holding her liable in the amount of $222,000 for file sharing music over a peer-to-peer network. The specific legal ground for the ruling was an erroneous jury instruction that merely offering a work on a peer-to-peer network is, in and of itself, infringement. Judge Davis has now concluded that without actual distribution, no infringement has occurred.
It’s hard to say whether this ruling would change the outcome if the case is tried again. If Thomas was offering songs over the Internet, there’s a pretty good chance she wound up actually distributing them to someone. At the same time, however, I wonder if the court is sending a message to the RIAA that it isn’t happy with how this case got resolved.
Judge Davis closed his opinion with a statement that Congress needs to change the statutory damages rule that resulted in the large award against Thomas. The judge asserted that the award was far out of proportion to the size of her offense, and that such large awards are really appropriate only against commercial infringers. This language is legally irrelevant to the decision at hand, but it makes me wonder if, should the RIAA choose to retry the case, the judge will take steps to hold down the size of any statutory damage claim.