Lawyer Egos Interfere with RIAA Attempt at Good Deed
Of the approximately 30,000 people sued for file sharing by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), only two have taken their cases to trial. Both of them lost in grand fashion. Jammie Thomas-Rasset was the first one and, while many think the RIAA is evil for pursuing her so vigorously, it is now evident that her attorneys share the most blame for her disproportionately dire predicament.
There have been plenty of twists and turns in Jammie’s case, starting with her first jury trial in 2007 that resulted in $222,000 in statutory damages being awarded against her for sharing 24 songs on Kazaa. However, Judge Michael Davis, who has overseen the case from the beginning, reversed himself in a very rare move because of a jury instruction he had given – if the copyrighted works had merely been made available by Jammie on the service, she was liable for infringement.
Jammie’s second trial occurred last year. Despite having more traditional instructions, the jury not only found in favor of the RIAA, it awarded damages substantially greater than the first trial. Her bill went up nearly 9-fold, from less than a quarter-million dollars to just shy of two million. This judgment has drawn a lot of critical attention from laypersons around the world; $2 million for stealing 24 songs?!? Yup, and the law is very, very clear that this is well within the range – the jury could have made her pay as much as $3.6 million.
The issue of justifiability of the damages is one worthy of its own, in-depth post, though it is what happened after this award that bamboozles. Last Friday, in response to a motion filed by Jammie, Judge Davis reduced the damages all the way down to $54,000.
Even though the judge had no legally justifiable grounds for reducing the award, one might think that Jammie was bouncing off of the walls with excitement. She just went from an unfathomably high bill to a daunting but reasonably manageable one. And one might think that ringmaster Judge Davis’ Circque de Crazy would leave the RIAA with no option but to appeal.
So, if you were expecting a jubilant Jammie and raging RIAA, you’d be wrong. Instead, Jammie’s attorneys at Camara & Sibley immediately said that they intended to challenge the lowered award, and to do so based on a theory that virtually every legal mind in the country thinks is ludicrous (yet another topic worthy of its own post). Given Jammie’s two spectacular losses at trial, it is pure madness to suggest that the $54,000 lowered award shouldn’t be considered a huge victory for her.
The RIAA also took an unpredictable path. Rather than deride Judge Davis for blundering this case and immediately filing its appeal, the RIAA extended an offer yesterday (HT Digital Music News) to settle for less than half of the reduced judgment. No appeals, no more back and forth, no more anything. Jammie Thomas-Rasset could walk away only owing $25,000 and even get a payment plan to knock it out.
The RIAA’s offer was truly a gift horse. Unfortunately, it appears that Camara & Sibley took one gander in that horse’s mouth and then, with a smack on its rear, sent it on its way. No deal.
Attorneys have a duty to vigorously represent their clients. However, they also have a duty to advise them against doing profoundly stupid things and, more importantly, lawyers should never put their own interests before those of their clients. So, either Jammie is ridiculously hard-headed and completely ignorant, or her attorneys are egomaniacs of the highest order. It appears that the latter is true.
Nothing good can come of rejecting the RIAA’s offer. If there is another trial on the damages portion as the judge suggested, the least amount for which Jammie will be liable is $18,000 (the statutory minimum is $750 per infringement and the amount Jammie requested when seeking to have the second jury award reduced). Considering that two juries have already found against her for substantially more, it is virtually impossible that Jammie could end up in a better position.
Regardless of whether there is a third trial, Jammie’s attorneys have said that they will appeal. At best, the appellate court will uphold Judge Davis’ reduced award. For more likely, however, is that Judge Davis’ reduced damages award will be reversed and the original jury verdict reinstated, putting Jammie back on the hook for $2 million.
So, if Jammie’s case is so dismal, why is she not accepting the RIAA’s offer? It can only be her attorneys’ egos. Keep in mind that Camara & Sibley is also the same firm that represents a certain silly author that TBTS wrote about a while back. This is the same firm that refers to itself using grandiose language as if it has been a stalwart legal institution for decades but that has been in existence only a short time. One of the founding partners is in his mid-thirties and the other only in his mid-twenties. Both are cocky as hell.
This case has been a huge publicity tool for Camara & Sibley. It has garnered them the widespread attention that has led to a few other high-profile cases (though it appears from their record that the only thing they do well is lose). Once the case is settled, their 15 minutes of fame expire, so they have an interest in keeping it going as long as possible. And based on recent comments by Joe Sibley, they also have an eye on the biggest ego boost imaginable – arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court.
These guys clearly do not have their client’s best interests at heart. This is all about their egos, about cultivating an image and sticking feathers in their caps. Despite their suggestion that they are pursuing a moral victory for Jammie, the reality is that there is no possibility whatsoever that she will ever get one. Jammie is liable for infringement, plain and simple. The only issue is how much she will owe, and, considering that the RIAA is willing to let this thing go for barely more than the minimum damage amount, it is profoundly irresponsible of Camara and Sibley to not advise their client to take the opportunity.
The RIAA has done some rotten things in their time, but based on the twists and turns in this case, the ones most deserving of the public’s scorn are Jammie’s own attorneys.