Judge in Minnesota grants new trial in music downloading case
MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge granted a new trial to a Minnesota woman convicted of pirating music files, ruling Wednesday that he made an error in her trial. And he implored Congress to change copyright laws to prevent excessive awards against individuals in similar cases.
Jammie Thomas, of Brainerd, was convicted last October in the first-ever file-sharing trial. A jury in Duluth found her guilty of copyright infringement for offering to share 24 songs on the Kazaa file sharing network. She was ordered to pay $222,000 to six record companies.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis granted her motion for a new trial. In a 44-page ruling, Davis said he made an error in his jury instructions that "substantially prejudiced" her rights.
At issue was whether the record companies had to prove anyone else actually downloaded their copyrighted songs, as her lawyer argued, or whether it was enough to argue, as the industry did, that a defendant simply made copyrighted music available for copying.
Relying on a 1993 appeals court decision, Davis concluded in his ruling Wednesday that the law requires that actual distribution be shown. In his jury instructions, he had said it didn’t.