Thursday's $1.92 million file-sharing verdict against a Minnesota mother of four could provide copyright reform advocates with a powerful human symbol of the draconian penalties written into the nearly-35 year old Copyright Act. Then again, maybe not.
A Minnesota federal jury stung Jammie Thomas-Rasset with the enormous fine after concluding she infringed copyrights on 24 music tracks by sharing them on the Kazaa peer-to-peer network. It was the defendant's second trial: The first ended in a $222,000 verdict for the same songs, but was nullified after the judge presiding over the case said he provided faulty jury instructions that favored the recording industry.
But the retrial only put the defiant Thomas-Rasset deeper in debt than before, and sparked a popular backlash on blogs and Twitter. Now would-be copyright reformers are hoping to turn the stratospheric judgment into a rallying cry for action in Washington. "The verdict will give ammunition to lawyers, academics and judges who want to impose a constitutional limit on statutory damages," says Ben Sheffner, a copyright attorney who writes the Copyrights & Campaigns blog.