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June 19, 2009

Downloading mom fined $80,000 per song

Posted: 11:17 AM ET

After deliberating for only a few hours, the jury in Jammie Thomas-Rasset's federal retrial found the 32-year-old Minnesota mother liable for willfully infringing the copyrights of 24 songs she downloaded off the Web and awarded record labels $1.92 million.

24 cases of copyright infringement will cost a Minnesota woman $1.9 million, a jury has decided.

24 cases of copyright infringement will cost a Minnesota woman $1.9 million, a jury has decided.

Thomas-Rasset stood accused of using the file-sharing service KaZaA to download and share music illegally after RIAA investigators at MediaSentry linked several complete song downloads to Thomas-Rasset's computer. While the RIAA initially offered to settle the case for $5,000, Thomas-Rasset insisted she had never heard of KaZaA and decided to fight the charges in court.

The RIAA has sued thousands in its legal campaign against file sharing, but, according to her attorneys, Jammie Thomas-Rasset's case was the first such copyright infringement case to go to trial in the United States. When faced with the astronomical penalties detailed in the Copyright Act, from $750 to $150,000 per infringement, most of those sued accepted settlements from the RIAA for only a few thousand dollars.

Despite a vigorous defense from lawyers Kiwi Camara and Joe Sibley and tearful testimony by Jamie Thomas-Rasset, the jury concluded that she willfully infringed on 24 copyrights and awarded labels $80,000 per infringement.

While I was not particularly shocked by the guilty verdict, the jury's decision to award damages of $1.92 million is rather mind-blowing. The financial ruin this fine will likely cause Ms. Thomas-Rasset is substantially greater than the criminal penalties she might have faced had she stolen the physical CDs.

How do you feel about the verdict? Should the civil penalties outlined in the Copyright Act apply to private citizens who are not downloading and distributing copyrighted material for financial gain?

And before I plow through dozens of comments declaring, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime," consider lawyer Joe Sibley's closing arguments to the jury, paraphrased here:

If the labels can sue Thomas-Rasset, they can sue any of you. "This could happen to any of us." If a kid, or a friend's kid, downloads some songs on a computer at home, any person could just as easily be on trial with the same evidence against them.

Ars Technica provided excellent coverage of the four-day trial:

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Filed under: file sharing • Internet • piracy


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Jeff   June 25th, 2009 2:39 am ET

This is absolutely insane! It's one thing if you download the songs and then try to resell them for any type of financial gain, that should be punished. However, it is absurd that they fined her for simply listening to some songs she got off the internet. Is it illegal to borrow a CD from a friend and listen to it? NO! It is the same thing, the only difference is that we use technology (i.e. computers and the internet) to share with people, instead of physically handing each other a disc. And as others have said, it's not illegal to record songs playing off the radio. You can just as easily record audio that is being played on internet radio stations.


Joe   June 25th, 2009 2:12 pm ET

As of the iTunes store and its counterparts, there is no legitimate reason to illegally download music. If you don't like an entire CD, you get one song for a USD. Very reasonable.
And as stated, music sharing is viral, hence the huge fee per song.

However, regardless of the "potential" impact any one person has, 80k per song is friggin ridiculous, and the range o fine per song is basically leaving it to a judge, jury, lawyers and label, to collectively convict a person to an extent based on guesswork or theory. There should be a fine per song, and that fine should approach "damage" numbers ONLY if and when that computer has been linked to a tree of subsequent downloads.

Cracking down on freeloaders is a good thing. Fining a single person over a million dollars without evidence that the person is responsible for millions of dollars of damage is ridiclous and should absolutely be appealed on that grounds.


S   June 25th, 2009 3:17 pm ET

What a rediculous award. How can anyone in their right mind say this lady owes $80,000 per download for songs that cost $0.99 per download. If someone steals a cd and is caught, they certainly are not penalized $80,000. Furthermore, do you actually think this lady is going to pay $1.92 million dollars, heck no. And if she did, how much of the $80,000 per download do you think will go to the actual artist?

Do record companies have any morals? Well, they can drown in the immorality of illegal downloaders for all I care.


Dave   June 26th, 2009 1:00 pm ET

Completely ridiculous fine. You can download songs legally for 1 buck, 80,000 for 1? That's a terrible miscarriage of justice, given there should be punitive damages (else everyone would do it) but 80,000 times the value of a single song is just outrageous. I'd say 100 bucks per song (or 2,400) if that. And who's to say *she* actually did it.

You can smoke in an elevator for $25, seems to me like the federal government just can't keep up with the times (i.e. 25 bucks was probably a lot back in the 50s...)


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