A Minnesota woman accused of sharing songs online owes record companies US$222,000 (NZ$271,568) for wilful copyright violations, a US federal appeals court has said, reversing a lower court's ruling in a long-running lawsuit over music downloading.
A three-judge appeals panel ruled that Chief US District Judge Michael Davis erred when he cut the award against Jammie Thomas-Rasset to US$54,000.
The woman's case was one of only two lawsuits to go to trial out of more than 30,000 filed by the recording industry in a drive to stop the unauthorised free downloading of copyrighted music, which the industry says has cut deeply into its revenues. The vast majority settled for about US$3500 apiece.
The US Supreme Court in May refused to hear an appeal by former Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum of a US$675,000 award in the other case, but he has vowed to keep fighting.
Juries ruled against Thomas-Rasset in three separate trials since the industry sued her in 2006. Davis said the last award, of US$1.5 million, was "severe and oppressive."
But the appeals court found the high award was not unreasonable. It sent the case back to Davis for an order that she pay US$222,000 - the award from her original trial - and for an injunction barring her from making the plaintiffs' recordings available to the public via online media distribution systems in the future.
"We are pleased with the appellate court's decision and look forward to putting this case behind us," the Recording Industry Association of America said in a statement.
But Thomas-Rasset said she plans to appeal again as long as her attorneys remain with her for the long haul, and they've assured her they are. She has said she can't afford to pay anyway.
Her attorney, Kiwi Camara, confirmed they'll ask the Supreme Court to hear the case, saying the US$222,000 award is punitive.
The industry has previously offered to settle for US$25,000 and donate the money to a musician's charity. Camara said they wouldn't accept such an offer even if were made again.
The industry presented evidence that Thomas-Rasset made available over 1700 songs to other computer uses via the file sharing service Kazaa, though the lawsuit targeted only 24 songs.
For tactical reasons, the appeals court noted, the industry didn't seek reinstatement of the third jury's award and was content with the original US$222,000 - US$2250 per song - from her 2007 trial.
Thomas-Rasset got a second trial in 2009 after Davis concluded he made a legal error in her first. After Davis cut the second jury's US$1.92 million award to US$54,000, the industry won a third trial that resulted in a US$1.5 million award, which Davis again cut to US$54,000.