In what the recording industry called the largest judgement ever in a U.S. copyright case, a federal jury in Los Angeles has fined a California CD maker more than $136 million for music piracy, officials said Friday. The jury handed down its multi-million dollar verdict against Media Group, a Fremont, California-based CD manufacturer, Wednesday, requiring it to pay $90,000 for each of more than 1,500 songs it copied illegally since 1995.
Media Group declared bankruptcy last year after the judge in the case found the company and its then-chief executive, Jimmy Chan, guilty of "willful" violation of copyright laws.
While the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which sued Media Group and Chan on behalf of 23 recording companies, conceded there was little likelihood the damages would ever be collected, it still hailed the jury's verdict as an important warning to copyright infringers.
"This is a major win for record labels, artists, music fans and countless others who care about protecting the value of music," RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement.
"It is a precedented-setting verdict that sends an important message to those who ignore copyright law."
A lawyer representing Media Group did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the case.
Media Group, a subsidiary of the Taipei, Taiwan-based Media Press, was accused of pirating and distributing unauthorized CDs from artists including Madonna, P. Diddy, James Brown and Elvis Presley.
Matt Oppenheim, the RIAA's senior vice president for business and legal affairs, said the recording industry trade group sent three separate "education" teams to the Media Group facility to instruct operators on the difference between licensed and unlicensed CDs, but that pirated copies continued to be produced.
Oppenheim said the jury verdict in the case was important in that it indicated that U.S. juries -- who only began deciding copyright damage awards several years ago -- were open to large judgements against music pirates. Previously, judges decided such cases.
"This was the first case of its kind in many years, and many peple speculated that we wouldn't do well before a jury. But in fact this proves that was wrong. They understood that stealing is stealing," Oppenheim said.