"A Minnesota woman ordered to pay $222,000 in the nation's first music download trial may get another chance with a jury.
The issue is whether record companies have to prove anyone else actually downloaded their copyrighted songs, or whether it's enough to argue that a defendant made copyrighted music available for copying.
The recording industry has sued thousands of people who shared music online, and has argued that all they have to prove is that the defendant made the music available. They compared it to someone displaying pirated DVDs for sale on a table.
Music-sharers have argued that the only proven downloaders of their music were investigators working for the record companies themselves.
That was the case in the trial last fall of Jammie Thomas of Brainerd. U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. Davis instructed jurors that making sound recordings available without permission violates record company copyrights "regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown."
On Thursday Davis said that may have been a mistake...
The question of how much the record companies must prove to win their lawsuits seems destined for more dates with appeals court judges.
Different judges have ruled different ways on the matter. Last month a federal judge at a pretrial ruling in Boston said that merely making the songs available online is not copyright infringement. But a ruling by a New York judge took the opposite position.
Ray Beckerman, an attorney who has represented other downloading defendants and runs a blog tracking the most prominent cases, said the Recording Industry Association of America has been using the Thomas verdict to support its side.
"We've been saying all along that it was submitted to the jury on an improper theory, and now the judge recognizes his error and he realizes he was misled by record industry lawyers," Beckerman said."