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Price of downloading 24 songs: $2 million for Brainerd woman

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MINNEAPOLIS -- A federal jury deliberated about five hours Thursday before deciding that Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a Brainerd, Minn., mother of four, should pay more than $1.9 million for willfully downloading and sharing 24 copyrighted songs.

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The dollar amount is about nine times what jurors in Thomas-Rasset's first trial determined she was liable for. U.S. District Judge Michael Davis threw out that verdict because of an error in jury instructions; he also said then that he thought those damages were excessive for an individual citizen to pay.

Jurors determined Thomas-Rasset is liable for $80,000 for each of the 24 songs she downloaded and made available for distribution on the KaZaA peer-to-peer file-sharing network.

Kiwi Camara, one of Thomas-Rasset's two defense attorneys, said it could be termed a shocking verdict. He said he had expected if his client were found liable, it would be for the minimum amount possible -- $18,000.

"I was surprised by the amount,'' Camara said. "I think it's excessive, and I think the jury most likely didn't believe her and was angry about it.''

Thomas-Rasset, 32, was somber but didn't express any outward emotion as the verdicts were read.

"Unfortunately there was nothing I could do; it was up to the jury,'' Thomas said outside the courtroom. "It's about $2 million. The only thing I can say is good luck trying to get it from me, because you can't get blood from a turnip, you know.''

Of the jury, she said: "They did their job and I'm not going to hold it against them."

The team of attorneys representing the Recording Industry Association of America couldn't keep the smiles off their faces as they shook hands and fist-bumped outside the presence of the jury.

"We appreciate the jury's service and that they take the issue as seriously as we do,'' said Cara Duckworth, director of communications for the RIAA in Washington, D.C. "We are pleased the jury agreed with the evidence and found the defendant liable. Since day one we've been willing to settle this case, and we remain so.''

Duckworth said Thomas-Rasset could have settled the case for between $3,000 and $5,000.

Camara said there are appealable issues but that RIAA also has expressed an interest in settling the case.

He said he will continue to represent the defendant at no cost as he explores whether to settle or appeal. He also is considering a class-action law suit against the recording industry, but declined to say on what grounds.

What would he like to ask the jury? "I'd like to ask them what they thought of the presentation, why and how they came up with the number, and what caused them to believe or not believe her story,'' he said.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Joe Sibley portrayed record company officials as money-hungry, big-city executives who he said flew in from Los Angeles and New York to testify against, beat on and teach a lesson to a woman who dared to challenge them.

The Recording Industry Association of America has filed more than 30,000 lawsuits against individuals they say have illegally distributed copyrighted music files.

In his closing argument, Timothy Reynolds, a Denver attorney representing the Recording Industry Association of America, told jurors that evidence and testimony linked the defendant to the illegally downloaded music through her Internet Protocol and Modem addresses, her computer user name and her music tastes. Furthermore, the only computer in her home was in her bedroom, she controlled access to it and she knew how to do file sharing from a class she took in college.

Thomas-Rasset raised the possibility during her testimony Wednesday that her children and her former common-law husband had the opportunity and ability to access the family account on her home computer and that they knew her user name.

Reynolds jumped on that in his closing argument. He called it "a brand-new story,''

"Is it credible to tell one story for years, then at trial tell a completely different story?'' he asked rhetorically. "If the defendant doesn't believe it why should you believe it? It's simply not true.''

Reynolds said the record companies have suffered significant impact on their industry and in their ability to provide music for people's enjoyment. "The need for deterrence here is great,'' he said.

Under instructions of law read by U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, jurors had to determine if Thomas-Rasset downloaded the six record companies' sound recordings using the online media distribution system known as KaZaA on a peer-to-peer network and/or distributed them to the public without the plaintiffs' consent.

A Duluth jury in 2007 found Thomas-Rasset liable for $222,000 for willfully committing copyright infringement, but last September Davis granted the defendant a retrial, ruling that his instructions to jurors tainted the trial.

The record companies involved in the suit are Capitol Records, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Arista Records, Interscope Records, Warner Bros. Records and UMG Recordings.

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