The federal court judge in Minnesota who presided over the first file-sharer trial to reach a jury verdict is now having second thoughts. In an order issued late yesterday, Judge Michael Davis asked the parties to submit additional legal briefs. He fears the court "committed a manifest error of law," and he may grant a new trial to Jammie Thomas.

In October, 12 jurors decided unanimously that Thomas was liable for infringing 24 recordings she shared over peer-to-peer service Kazaa. The verdict for $222,000 came in the first trial held in a suit filed against a consumer by major labels for P2P file sharing.

In yesterday's order, the judge wrote that he is contemplating granting a new trial because it may have been an error of law to instruct the jury that the act of making copyrighted sound recordings available for distribution on a peer-to peer network violates the owners exclusive right of distribution, regardless of whether an actual distribution has been shown.

As noted in the order, the question comes after a District Court in Arizona in April denied major labels motion for a summary judgment filed against alleged Kazaa file sharers Pamela and Jeffrey Howell. The Howell court held that making a music file available in a Kazaa shared folder is not an unlawful distribution of a copyrighted work.

To infringe the right of distribution under copyright law, the Howell court wrote, the owner must prove the "actual dissemination of copies or phonorecords. In other words, copyright owners must prove that the file was actually downloaded by someone.

If there is a new trial, labels may still offer proof the files were actually downloaded. In most cases, the RIAA's investigators have downloaded some files.

Briefs are due by early June. The court will hear oral arguments on July 1.