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IP/Entertainment Case Law Updates

Capitol Records, Inc. v. Thomas-Rasset

In a copyright infringement action, the court rejected the defendant’s request for a jury instruction that states “statutory damages must bear a reasonable relationship to the harm suffered by each plaintiff.”


In October of 2007, a jury found that defendant Jammie Thomas-Rasset willfully infringed plaintiff record companies’ copyrights by downloading 24 songs using the Kazaa peer-to-peer network, and awarded statutory damages in the amount of $9,250 for each willful infringement, for a total of $222,000. (Plaintiffs chose statutory damages instead of actual damages.) The court vacated the verdict and granted a new trial after concluding that it erred in instructing the jury that making sound recordings available for distribution on a peer-to-peer network, regardless of whether actual distribution was shown, qualified as distribution under the Copyright Act. In June of 2009, the jury returned a verdict finding that defendant had willfully infringed all 24 sound recordings and, this time, awarded statutory damages in the amount of $80,000 per song, for a total verdict of nearly $2 million. However, in January of 2010, the court granted defendant’s motion for remittitur and ruled that the jury’s statutory damage award was “shocking and unjust.” The court offered the plaintiffs the option of accepting a reduced damage award of $54,000, or opting for a new trial on damages. The plaintiffs rejected the reduced damage award and, instead, asked for a new trial on damages. At a pretrial hearing on October 12, the defendant, Ms. Thomas, asked the court to add the following language to the jury instructions: “Your award of statutory damages must bear a reasonable relationship to the harm suffered by each plaintiff as a result of the defendant’s actions.” The court denied defendant’s request, holding that: “[t]here is no authority for the proposition that a jury should be so instructed in a statutory damages case. Additionally, the standard for reviewing a statutory damages verdict for constitutionality is precisely that – a standard for review, employed by the Court.”

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