Supreme Court Lets Verdict Stand in Recording Industry Case Against Downloader

Supreme Court declines to review case of file-sharer Jammie Thomas-Rasset.

ByABC News
March 19, 2013, 3:13 PM

March 19, 2013— -- When Jammie Thomas-Rasset received a letter in 2005 accusing her of downloading and sharing copyrighted music, she was given two options from the lawyer behind the letter: Settle for $5,000 or be sued.

But Thomas-Rasset, of Brainerd, Minn., said she had never heard of the music downloading site Kazaa cited in the letter, nor the songs the Recording Industry Association of America had accused her of sharing.

Refusing to settle, Thomas-Rasset became the first person to challenge a file-sharing lawsuit brought by the RIAA -- that decision to fight resulted in a $222,000 jury verdict against her.

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Thomas-Rasset's appeal of the verdict. She'd petitioned the high court on the grounds that the damages against her were "excessive" and disproportionate to any damage she'd wrought on the recording industry.

"It's an empty victory for the recording industry," Thomas-Rasset told ABC News. "If they want to come after me, they'll find I have no assets."

The RIAA, in a statement to ABC News, said, "We appreciate the court's decision, and are pleased that the legal case is finally over. We've been willing to settle this case from day one and remain willing to do so."

Thomas-Rasset has maintained that one of her children was responsible for the illegal downloads from her computer. The RIAA said that Thomas-Rasset had been caught downloading more than 1,700 songs -- it brought legal action on 24 of them.

The RIAA also said that Thomas-Rasset had replaced an old hard drive during its investigation, and that after she refused the initial $5,000 settlement, it had offered her another offer to settle for $25,000, money that would have gone to the charity MusiCares. Thomas-Rasset passed on this offer too.

From 2004 to 2009, the RIAA estimated that approximately 30 billion songs had been illegally downloaded on file-sharing networks, costing the recording industry billions. During that period, the industry filed thousands of lawsuits against people who had been getting their music without permission or payment. The majority of these cases were settled for about $3,500 each, but two defendants opted to fight the charges in court.

Besides Thomas-Rasset, who was the first challenger, the other defendant, who is still waging his case in court, is former Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum. He currently owes the recording industry $675,000, a judgment the Supreme Court also let stand.

Kiwi Camara, a Houston lawyer who represents Thomas-Rasset, told ABC News that her fight was never about money.

"It's not fair or legal that an industry can go and pluck a defendant out at random and punish them for file-sharing, an act committed by millions of Americans," said Camara.

Camara said the $222,000 judgment, which was once almost $2 million, wasn't tied to what his client did.

"It's just a made-up number," said Camara. "The recording industry is making a public display by pursuing this case, trying to show people that they should be afraid."

Camara said he was disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision, but sees another opening for Thomas-Rasset.

Tenenbaum, who Camara is also representing, still has a case before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A victory for Tenenbaum could signal a victory for Thomas-Rasset, who said she doesn't worry about the judgment against her.

"I can't go back in time and prevent this from happening," she said. "I live my life. It is what it is."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.