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Jammie Thomas asks Supreme Court to take file-sharing case

The woman found liable for sharing 24 copyrighted songs on the Web asks the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case due to "crippling statutory damages" of $222,000 awarded by an appeals court.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
Jammie Thomas-Rasset Jammie Thomas-Rasset

Acting on her promise, Jammie Thomas-Rasset has finally fought her music uploading case all the way to the Supreme Court. Her lawyers announced today that they have filed an official petition asking the Supreme Court to review her long-running case, which has moved up through the courts over the past five years.

In 2007, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) accused Thomas-Rasset of copyright infringement for sharing 1,700 copyrighted songs -- the equivalent of 150 CDs. But the RIAA whittled down the number to 24. A jury heard the evidence against her and rendered a $222,000 verdict.

That decision was thrown out by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis in Minnesota after he acknowledged erring in his jury instructions. In 2009, Thomas-Rasset's case was retried and again 12 jurors decide against her. This time, however, the jury awarded damages of $80,000 for each of the 24 songs she was accused of sharing for a total of $1.92 million. That award was again thrown out along with the verdict.

Davis lowered the sum to $2,250 per song and that meant Thomas-Rasset, who is from Minnesota, owed the music labels $54,000. The RIAA appealed to the Eighth Circuit, which then reinstated the original damages award of $222,000 in September.

Now, Thomas-Rasset's lawyers from Camara & Sibley law firm say that such "crippling statutory damages" for downloading is unconstitutional and is asking that the Supreme Court review the Eighth Circuit's decision. Camara & Sibley claim that the 8th U.S. Circuit failed to fully consider earlier cases on damages.

"In those cases, Thomas-Rasset argues, the Supreme Court held that damages imposed in a civil case must bear a reasonable relationship to the actual injury inflicted on the plaintiff by the defendant," Camara & Sibley said in a statement (pdf) today. "Because the damages in her case seek to punish her for file-sharing in general rather than her own conduct in particular, Thomas-Rasset contends that those damages are unconstitutional under these cases."

In the past, the highest court in the land hasn't appeared eager to hear these kinds of cases. In May, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal made by attorneys for Joel Tenenbaum, a self-admitted music pirate, who was ordered by a lower court to pay the RIAA $675,000 in damages.

It remains unclear whether the Supreme Court will hear Thomas-Rasset's case. If it does, Thomas-Rasset will take with her a history of damage awards being thrown out, while the RIAA will bring multiple favorable jury verdicts and a successful appeal.

An RIAA spokesperson told CNET that the group is declining to comment on this matter at this time.