A US judge has ordered a new trial of a woman accused of copyright infringement after he rejected claims by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that making music available for download in a shared computer folder constitutes illegal distribution.
Jammie Thomas was sued by a number of record companies last year for allegedly copying a total of 1,702 songs and then making them available for distribution over the Kazaa file-sharing network. The case focused on 24 of the songs, and after a four-day trail, a jury found Thomas guilty of copyright infringement and ordered her to pay $222,000, or $9,250 per song, to the infringed parties.
However, District Judge Michael Davis has overturned the verdict, saying that his instructions to the jury were unclear on the question of whether making music available for download by itself constitutes infringement, and has subsequently ordered a re-trial.
The judge said his subsequent examination of the word 'distribution' under the federal Copyright Act and other relevant statutes clearly showed that illegal distribution can occur only if there was actual dissemination of music.
"If simply making a copyrighted work available to the public constituted a distribution, even if no member of the public ever accessed that work, copyright owners would be able to make an end run around the standards for assessing contributor copyright infringement."
Brian Toder, Thomas' lawyer, said he was "very pleased" with the judge's decision to overturn the jury verdict. "The biggest effect of his decision is going to be on damages, more than liability," Toder said.
"I think it's fair to say that it is unlikely we will prevail in a new trial," Toder added.