But this juror had concerns.
"We have been coming here for two weeks, all of us in this room," said the juror on March 12. "We have been exposing ourselves. Whether we know it or not, it's happening. And, quite frankly, this matter doesn't seem all that important compared to lives at stake, such as my mom who has lupus. She has a very compromised immune system."
After the juror finished, the judge assured this person that the court was taking adequate safety precautions and consulting with the Centers for Disease Control.
"I'm not trying to get us shut down," the juror responded. "I don't want us delayed. I want you guys to hurry up so we can do our job."
Later that day, the judge delivered instructions. The jury deliberated for less than an hour and reached a verdict — $189,500, which was about $1,000 per work.
Probably expecting at least ten times to thirty times that much after five years of litigating the case (statutory damages run up to $150,000 per work), the music publishers moved for a new trial. Represented by attorney Barry Slotnick, they found it simply inconceivable that this jury hadn't reviewed a single one of the 326 exhibits that had been admitted into evidence. They blamed "a once-in-a-century global pandemic" for the jury rushing. And Slotnick told the judge there was precedent for a redo, pointing to how the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals once ordered a new trial because of a low damages verdict. In that case, a hurricane was bearing down, and the judge encouraged the jurors to hurry home “before you get blown away,”
Unfortunately for the music publishers, U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos isn't delivering an encore.
In his latest opinion (read here), the judge notes there's no argument that the plaintiffs lacked time to make their case, and unlike that hurricane situation, Ramos had advised the concerned juror, "Now that the case is in your hands, you can stay as long as you wish."
"Plaintiffs do not persuasively draw any connection between the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the specific damages awarded," he writes. "As Defendants point out, the jury could have just as easily settled on a higher award in the same amount of deliberation time."
So no new trial, and the music industry's pyrrhic victory doesn't end there.
The plaintiffs also sought more than $6 million in legal fees which Sagan resisted on multiple grounds. Among other arguments, defendant's attorneys said the music publishers couldn't really be considered the victors given the disappointing verdict. The judge rejects that contention. The music publishers won on the merits. Sagan also objected to a $6 million fee award because it would leave him in "financial ruin," especially given the COVID pandemic that had caused him to cut staff. That partially pushes Ramos to limit the fee award.
In the end, Ramos trims the fee award by 60 percent, meaning the plaintiffs will have to make good with $2 million for five years worth of work.
"The Court acknowledges that the reduction imposed here is substantial," writes Ramos. "However, the Court believes that the reduction is warranted given that the net amount of fees awarded—$ 2,420,226.00—is still large. Such a hefty fee award surely constitutes adequate deterrence for would-be infringers, but is intended to remain true to the principle that such awards should not result in financial ruination for Defendants."
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.