Eighth Circuit Upholds $200K+ Kazaa File-Sharing Copyright Infringement Damages

By Joseph Mandour on September 12, 2012

sony Los Angeles — The Eighth Circuit on Tuesday ruled that a Minnesota woman deserved the $222,000 in damages a jury handed down for making 24 songs available for download through the file-sharing service Kazaa in a copyright infringement suit brought by major record labels including Sony BMG, Capitol Records, Warner Bros. and UMG.

Statutory damages of at least $222,000 were constitutional, and the district court erred in holding that the Due Process Clause allowed statutory damages of only $54,000, the appeals court said. The appeals court vacated the Minnesota district court’s judgment and remanded the case with directions to enter judgment accordingly.

Capitol Records Inc., Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Arista Records LLC, Interscope Records, Warner Bros. Records Inc. and UMG Recordings Inc. sued Jammie Thomas-Rasset after learning that she was sharing copyrighted songs under the Kazaa username “tereastarr.”

The complex history of the case involves three jury trials, but it is undisputed that Thomas-Rasset willfully infringed copyrights of 24 recordings by engaging in file-sharing on the Internet, the appeals court said. The question of whether the district court correctly granted a new trial after the first verdict is moot, the Eighth Circuit said.

The appeals court decided that the recording companies are entitled to the remedies they seek: damages of $222,000 and a broadened injunction that forbids Thomas-Rasset to make available sound recordings for distribution.

Despite the fact that the second and third juries each handed down damage awards of over $1 million, on appeal the record companies only sought the $222,000 award from the first jury verdict.

The Eighth Circuit found it unnecessary to consider the merits of the district court’s order granting a new trial after the first verdict, saying the verdicts returned by the second and third juries are sufficient to justify those remedies.

“Important though the ‘making available’ legal issue may be to the recording companies, they are not entitled to an opinion on an issue of law that is unnecessary for the remedies sought or to a freestanding decision on whether Thomas-Rasset violated the law by making recordings available,” the appeals court said.

When the district court entered judgment after the verdict in the third trial, the court should have enjoined Thomas-Rasset from making copyrighted works available to the public, whether or not that conduct by itself violates rights under the Copyright Act, the Eighth Circuit said.

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