Big Minnesota win for big record companies

September 13, 2012

Record companies spun a big win this week in a case involving the Brainerd, Minn. woman who allegedly downloaded and shared a couple dozen copyrighted songs.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was not unconstitutional to impose a $220,000 penalty on Jammie Thomas-Rasset because the damages were not “so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense and obviously unreasonable.”  By doing so, the appeals court reversed the trial judge’s reduction of the award to $54,000.

For support, the Eighth Circuit cited the 1984 landmark case of Sony v. University City Studios, where the United States Supreme Court cleared the way for homeowners to use videocassette recorders to record shows off TV.  The Eighth Circuit then explained:

With the rapid advancement of technology, copyright infringement through online file-sharing has become a serious problem in the recording industry. Evidence at trial showed that revenues across the industry decreased by fifty percent between 1999 and 2006, a decline that the record companies attributed to piracy. This decline in revenue caused a corresponding drop in industry jobs and a reduction in the number of artists represented and albums released.

Thomas-Rasset’s lawyers have vowed a Supreme Court appeal, and I can’t blame them–even though copyright infrinigement is a big deal.

Lost in such cases, though, is a painful truth:  While the record companies can come away big winners, the creative artists who frequently have to surrender their copyrights are the ones who get left behind.

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