Federal Judge Declares Mistrial in RIAA Suit

Bob Preston
DULUTH, Minn. — In declaring a mistrial in a copyright infringement case brought by the Recording Industry Association of America, a federal judge waved away one way for the RIAA to win cases while providing another.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis nullified a $222,000 jury award to the RIAA. In ruling, Davis said that he shouldn't have told jurors that having copyrighted music in a shared folder was illegal.

The decision came as a part of the case Capitol vs. Thomas, the RIAA's first file-sharing copyright infringement case. The defendant is Jammie Thomas, a single mother of two children from Brainerd, Minn.

Instead, Davis said that in order to successfully prosecute a copyright infringement case, the RIAA would have to show that "actual distribution" happened.

But more than that, Davis said that any files downloaded by the RIAA from Thomas' shared files folder could "form the basis of an infringement claim."

Minneapolis attorney Brian Toder, who represents Thomas, said that despite the initial victory, the larger decision hurt his client. He also argued that downloads made by the RIAA as a part of their investigations shouldn't count against defendants.

In Thomas' case, the RIAA instructed its investigative arm, known as MediaSentry, to download the files.

"One can either have an infringement by violating reproduction rights or by distribution," Toder said. "According to that opinion, there is still a violation of a distribution right if your own people, MediaSentry, does the downloading. That doesn't help us."

In related news, last week the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill that would increase federal protection for intellectual property. The bill will give the Justice Department resources to prosecute cases of alleged intellectual property theft.