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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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Enrico Martinoli   June 24th, 2009 3:01 am ET

And during this time, real criminals in Wall Street are just being bailed out with higher bonuses...

This makes absolutely no sense.

tzugidan   June 24th, 2009 10:22 am ET

It's amazing to me to read some of the comments here that give latitude to illegal behavior. Perhaps these are the same folks that complain to the cop who got them for speeding that "hey everyone is speeding, you can't stop it, so why bother."

These defenses are laughable, and frankly as a person who does not engage is this (primarily because I respect artists and their attempt to earn an income), am glad that a message has been sent and a precedent established.

Perhaps this will not stop illegal behavior, but I'll bet dollars to donuts it has an effect.

Mike   June 24th, 2009 1:54 pm ET

Rediculous. I bet the jurors kids are probably using KaZaa or bit torrent to download music and can't win in this digital age. Digital downloads actually spreads the music. It really is a free marketing tool. Someone will eventually go out and buy the album on iTunes or a store after listening to it.
So is there a penalty for someone burning me a CD? It's the same...they bought it, and passed it to me.

thecagedbyrd   June 24th, 2009 2:39 pm ET

Thank you Lars from Metallica for starting the witch hunt... The worst thing about it.. She downloaded crap music... What a waist of tax payer money..

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.

GodKillzYou   June 25th, 2009 12:42 pm ET

She should have used PeerGuardian.

Durkee, Jeremy   June 25th, 2009 1:48 pm ET

This is absolutely absurd. The punishment obviosly does not match the crime. Who was the judge and who in the hell were the jurors. $#@%ing ridiculous. Absolutely @#$%ing ridiculous.

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.

Greg   June 25th, 2009 2:23 pm ET

The Constitution of the United States FORBIDS cruel and unusual punishment, as well as EXCESSIVE FINES from being imposed. She should challenge this all the way to the Supreme Court. If this isn't excessive, what is?

Joe   June 25th, 2009 3:01 pm ET

Not just excessive, but the extent of which the fines were are apparently without basis other than theory. Also, she idea she is responsible for damages due to people in turn stealing using her computer is prosecuted her for the *potention* wrongdoing of others who are not being held accountable.

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.

Steve Z   June 25th, 2009 3:32 pm ET

I am entirely unsympathetic. While on its face, the award seems high, she was clearly guilty of breaking the law. NO QUESTION ABOUT IT. The RIAA graciously offerred to let her off with paying $5k, which seems like less than she would have paid for the songs had she lawfully purchased them. Instead, she decided to LIE and say she never heard of KaZaa. Serves her right.

Oldwhiskers   June 25th, 2009 3:33 pm ET

I believe I've lost my ability to understand. I really do wonder at times if maybe I have some sort of mental disorder. It seems to me that the world has gone crazy. A lot of things just don't make sense to me anymore.

Just a thought – I have a song that I wrote and own, which is obviously worth millions in light of what I have recently learned by following this very interesting case. I will gladly surrender it to RIAA to adequately cover payment of Jammie Thomas-Rasset’s fine.

RIAA lawyers know who I am. All they have to do now is tap into my computer and download the song and provide Jammie a receipt marked "Fine – Paid in Full".

Oh, wait a minute. I've just realized that by posting this simple message and exercising my freedom of speech, I may have set myself up to be the next "example" which could mean that a Swat Team might surround my home at anytime. I might even end up being executed for being so stupid. I now fear for my wellbeing and that of my family. What kind of world are we living in?

OMG! Comments welcome!

Steve Z   June 25th, 2009 3:36 pm ET

My mistake. I thought there was more songs than 24. Nevertheless, considering that she willfully violated the law. $5k still seems like it was a pretty generous offer. She chose to roll the dice hoping that, even though there seems to be no qestion she broke the law, sympathetic jurors would let her off with no punishment. In a stranges twist, this jury actually followed the law and did not base their decision on emotions. How unique.

Datan0de   June 25th, 2009 3:37 pm ET

To Brett and others, downloading music from the internet is NOT "just like shoplifting". That's propaganda that the RIAA wants you to believe. It is NOT theft. It's copywright infringement. Legally they are completely separate crimes, and to consider them equivalent (either legally or morally) is factually wrong.

This fine of $80,000 per song was, according to one commenter, based on the *potential* loss to RIAA. This is a slippery slope, and a terrible precedent. This poor woman was punished based on a hypothetical calculation, rather than any actual damages. How about we start fining people who smoke indoors for the replacement cost of the building? It *could* potentially start a fire, right?

Mark   June 25th, 2009 3:48 pm ET

Ok, this is WAY out of proportion...

1. She's lost her case, and been fined, it'll cost her $1500 to file BK, there is no debtors prison in this country. So all this conversation about FINANCIAL ruin is ridiculous.

2. With that said, the jury awarding that penalty was insane, they know she can't pay it, so why make it so high?

3. If she's like 95% of the population, she doesn't have any assets that can be taken away, her car is likely upside down and her home most likely (at the age of 32) has a mortgage against it.

4. Since most Americans are in debt to the tune of $25,000 anyway, I would think most could really look at being sued like this as a blessing. Since the BK laws got changed to favor the credit card companies, many American's can no longer get out from under that kind of debt, so being sued and losing for $1mil + (as long as you defended yourself to keep the attorney fees down) gets that person out of debt with a BK after the judgement is awarded and they don't have to pay the $25k in credit card debt anymore.... all for just $1500. As if they had assets and plenty of money, they likely wouldn't be downloading in the first place.

5. 80,000 per song? What about the people that have 1,000 songs? $800,000,000.00 you've got to be kidding.

6. What's really sinful about this, is when she does file BK, the records industry gets to write off the bad debt against real income, so they really do win doing this.

Sad, Sad world we're in now.

X   June 25th, 2009 3:56 pm ET

to any of you making the argument that someone should pay for music to support the artists and that illegal downloading is theft, consider the following: the biggest thieves in the market are the record labels and music corporations themselves. on average, contracted artists receive somewhere in the area of 2 to 5 cents out of every dollar spent on cd's or tracks released on distro services such as itunes or rhapsody. guess where the rest of that dollar goes. artists primarily make money off of ticket sales and merch sales, neither of which are impacted by internet downloading. in fact, internet downloading could theoretically increase an artist's profit by helping a consumer decide what music they like and what bands they like enough to see live. illegal downloading does have its detrimental effects, but detrimental to who? that is the greater question...having said this, i feel this woman should appeal on the grounds of her punishment being unconstitutional and i expect an appeal...

Ryan James   June 25th, 2009 4:05 pm ET

I'd like to see a revolutionary change in the way artists present their music to the public. It's a shame that people who have very little musical talent make more money than does the artist that writes and performs the music that we love so much.

casey   June 25th, 2009 4:55 pm ET

Personally, I wouldn't buy anything out today. Rock has become whiny and pussified. Pop music promotes pedophilia. Country isn't even country anymore. It's poppy rock music. That about sums up the music industry. I've just started listening to NPR. I hope people just start putting out their own music through avenues on the internet and refuse to sign any contract with any record company. I hope all these business fail and go away. These companies have never given artists a fair deal anyway and we don't need them anymore.

Joel   June 25th, 2009 5:27 pm ET

I would like to address some of the egregious misconceptions concerning this case and illegal downloading in general.

1. Downloading songs without payment or consent of the owners is theft, morally speaking. The perpetrator knowingly steals information in defiance of copyright laws, causing everyone who put effort into producing and distributing that product to lose money. As this problem has become and epidemic pestilence, artists and companies are losing untold amounts of money. Just pay the 99¢ already.

2. This mother will not be paying the full 1.92m. Civil cases often have bloated awards that are later resettled or rescinded. She will likely end up paying reparations amounting to less than $20,000.

3. To all you people yelling that the music industry should just give up: people would take notice and something would be done if a large segment of the population tried to legitimize the theft of millions of dollars worth of merchandise from any retail outlet. Illegal downloading is no different; you are using a product (yes, music downloads are products) without paying for it.

I could counter a few more points, but I myself dislike insanely long posts. That belongs in the realm of essays and blogs. I'll sign off with my proposal to fix this problem. Add illegal downloading to the criminal code as its own crime. That way there would be set proceedings and fines for violations.

Chad   June 25th, 2009 6:03 pm ET

I think it is absolutely ridiculous that they can fine that much for a theoretical loss. The idea is based on all the other people who could have downloaded the song from her. But they don't who these theoretical people are or where they live or if they even exist. And what about the people who made these songs available on Kazaa in the first place? Because they don't know who or where all those people are, she's taking all the blame.

All you finger waggers telling us that "a crime is a crime" are missing the point, which is that this punishment is grossly disproportionate to the crime itself. There's a term in the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution that has been invoked by the Supreme Court to describe gross disproportionality: "cruel and unusual punishment." I hope the Supreme Court eventually sees this case, because this nonsense needs to stop.

navi   June 25th, 2009 6:10 pm ET

@ Matt – Annex Theory – What i find funny is that many artists are condemning the RIAA for there greed. The artists do not see any money from record sales, but they are the ones who are getting the bad rap from these witch hunts. To charge $80k a song is ridiculous by any standard. In addition, the way the RIAA and Media Sentry find these people are often subjected to questionable tactics that can lead to both inaccurate. Sadly many of these the RIAA's victims are bullied and pay up so they never have to see a court room.

Dan   June 25th, 2009 7:31 pm ET

Just another reason why it is nice to live in Canada where there are no ridiculous lawsuits.

Shane   June 26th, 2009 1:58 am ET

What i don't get is how the hell the record labels are able to convince people that one song should be worth $80,000. Especially since this sum of money does not go to a single one of the artist that the music was stolen from. It is pocketed by the record labels due to contracts saying that the artist do not receive this money. I think this is complete bulls**t and while i don't agree with downloading music but the courts and the jury should be told that first and then see what the decision will be.

Shane G   June 26th, 2009 2:47 am ET

Ok, I understand both sides of the story, however, commentator (correct spelling) you did not do your fact finding. Within ten seconds of reading your post, I simply googled search record labels being sued for falsely accusing people of downloading cases. It turned up 3 major cases involving people being accused of downloading illegal content. The cases were overturned and the defendants returned with lawsuits of false accusations and illegal investigative practices. I am not biased because I personally buy all my music directly from itunes but, before you try to post some "interesting facts" please do a little research

shayne   June 26th, 2009 7:23 am ET

I personally support piracy , although I do not engage in it, because despite the nonsensical claims of the music industry, research has shown piracy lowers prices for consumers.

The angry claims of the record companies are incapable of defying the laws of economics, and those laws say that if a cheaper version of the product is available, consumers will edge that way, and that brings the supply/demand curve down to cheaper optimum point.

More to the point, google an excellent essay written maybe 5-6 years ago by Courtney Love about napster, where she states that the bands , even the big ones, see very little of the money made from music sales, and most small bands dont see any money from their music anyway, so it would be better to find ways to deal directly with the artist, and piracy spurs that so be it.

As it turns out since then many such things HAVE turned out that way, with myspace+mp3s becoming a wonderful way for people to directly interact with small bands.

Also look up trent reznors views on the topic. They guy basically says its inevitable so bands better look for ways on working WITH free downloads instead of AGAINST them, which can only be a losing battle.

However for me, Itunes works fine, and I dont mind chipping a buck a song in.

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...)

Robbie Phelps   June 26th, 2009 9:11 pm ET

I believe a reasonable argument could be made that this verdict is unconstitutional – as I believe it could be construed as 'cruel and unusual' punishment.

This woman has essentially been doomed to a lifetime of suffering for stealing less than $100. Cruel, and unusual.

Nicholas   June 27th, 2009 11:51 am ET

Although I'm way late in this post and no one will likely read this after the miles of spam about how this woman was treated unfairly, I still feel obligated to respond to some of the points I see reiterated in this thread over and over.

1. This woman was accused of file sharing in 2005 and was using 2005 technology to share files through the internet. Kazaa back then (a gnutella client) was not the same as the Kazaa client you see today. Peer-to-Peer was a very adequate description for what she was doing. You would list a song and someone would download the song directly from you. The clients that we have today are more aptly described as Peet-to-MulitPeer since the file you want downloaded is streamed from possibly hundreds of different people.

***She actively shared these music files in their entirety with possibly hundreds of other people***

2. Songs today can be downloaded for 0.99 cents but in 2005 you didn't have the 0.99 cent option. Pre-download/piracy era you didn't have the option of downloading a digital copy of your music and had to buy the entire CD if you wanted to hear a specific song.

***The fines seem silly in light of the direction digital media has gone but not so funny when this woman was sharing these files****

3. This woman wasn't just stealing the music (downloading it for her own enjoyment). She was actively distributing her entire library of 2000 or more songs. This shows an intent beyond the cost of the lost CD, it shows willful damage to the industry.

***At some point she moved from being a disadvantaged citizen to a full fledged sabatour****

I'm not saying that they should have ruined her life over this issue or that the RIAA was correct in prosecuting this case. I'm just hoping that the full weight of the issues that I pointed out come to light.

shariff   June 27th, 2009 6:09 pm ET

copy all music get get real job

mike   June 30th, 2009 11:00 am ET

Brett – you are correct. Theft is theft. However, if you stole $30 of retail merchandise you would be required to pay it back, anbd would be charged with petty larceny, which would likely result in a fine of a few hundred dollars, not 1.9 million. Even the initial settlement offered was WAY too much. Honestly, if they treated it like petty theft it may be more effective. If the cost is $1 per song charge them $3 for punitive damages and be done with it, but as someone pointed out, when the punishment so far outpaces the crime it inspires civil disobedience. Why does the RIAA seem determined to go to war with its customers? They should be looking for the middle ground of $1 per song.

qwert smith   September 7th, 2009 9:06 pm ET

this is jacked up

shayne   September 8th, 2009 8:21 am ET

"**She actively shared these music files in their entirety with possibly hundreds of other people***"

says one of the readers of this blog.

Well, assuming a value of $1 per song to download, and assuming, say 200 downloads from her directory (200 is almost guaranteed to be far more than it was, but lets take a really high number).

At 24 songs, 24 * 200 , she should be fined $4800, or assuming the rule of triple damages for intentionally evil acts, about $15,000

million+ dollar fines have no basis in reality.

marie   December 27th, 2009 9:48 am ET

Your kidding me? EVERYONE downloads music! Well at least they do here in Australia...i don't know one single person who doesn't...this is crazy

marie   December 27th, 2009 10:14 am ET

The comments saying that what this woman did was wrong and that she's a criminal are hilarious! What world are you people living in??? We must all be criminals then........i myself sometimes borrow cd's from the library...that doesn't cost me a you think that's wrong?? I am not a music fanatic so i am not going to go buy cd' whether i downloaded music or not they wouldn't be getting any money from me.

coetsee   December 29th, 2009 2:21 am ET

Experts have talked about this before. How many times have you read about the importance of ‘adding value’ for your audience? How many times have you read about ‘building trust’ with your readers/prospects?
Many, many times. You know it well. Every marketing guru has spoken about this topic. I’m sick of hearing it. But it STILL bears repeating


William R. Cousert   December 29th, 2009 2:01 pm ET

These lawsuits will just force people to find other ways to share music. Swaping at work or school or going to public hot spots to set up their laptops.

Another option is to create a private P2P network – one that the recording industry can't monitor.

Aris   March 3rd, 2011 7:37 am ET

First of all, the fact that she had a chance to settle for a relatively small amount but chose to go to court against a giant like the RIAA, is stupidity at its best....!!

Furthermore, she did break the law and she should be fined since she was caught. However the fine is insane....
There is no way she will ever be able to pay even half that money.
She was the first case to go to court on this matter and the RIAA simply seized the opportunity to make an example out of her!

Obviously downloading is not proper. It is illegal, but the record companies need to understand a few simple facts.

1) the price of the CDs is outrageous, especially considering that there are like 2-3 good songs in an album of 12 and the rest are cr*p...

2) I have no objection to pay for a piece of good music like Offspring, Metallica etc. However, I simply refuse to give up good money to buy garbage like Justin Bieber.... Not all CDs can cost the same.

3) Get with times!! The internet is here to stay! Whether you like it or not, files flow absurdly easy online so instead of fighting a losing battle, try to come up with a new business model and adapt to the modern times.

It's time for the copyright laws and the record company policies to get with the times.

John   August 12th, 2011 6:37 pm ET

I realize the record companies are trying to protect themselves, but to go after mothers of 4 and 12 year old girls with rediculously high fines is offensive in my opinion. People don't deserve to have their lives wrecked from downloading songs that are typically $.99 each. I think they'd be better served to shut down the services that provide the opportunity to download songs illegally then to pick and choose a few of the many downloaders and hit them with huge fines.

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This Gov is stupid   March 7th, 2012 5:36 pm ET

Yes I completely agree that People must pay for their crimes.BUT the crime is not worth the price.The whole thing cost like 23.60$ I can understand doubling this to 47.00 – 100 but thats as far as the punishment should go

80,000$? is just plain greedy.It saddens me that this country allows this.They will never get the money,the entire family line will die and they still wont get the money

Honestly,it would be better if they just charge her 47$ that way,they would be sure to get their money.80,000$? you might as well kill her for a crime she didn't commit.

If she shared the file and that resulted in 80,000$ then that would be a different story.However,that is not the case.So the best punishment would be from 23$-100 for everything.

Like SMH@ said "How do you look yourself in the mirror after using a sledge-hammer to kill an ant?"

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Let's sue all youtube users for making fan videos and lyric videos.Let's just close youtube entirely.It falls in the same logic that this woman got fined.

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[...] feitelijk helemaal niets meer kan uploaden, omdat de website waar je dat zou doen dan anders een onbetaalbaar risico loopt. Dus ja, Artikel 13 dat heeft nogal wat impact op [...]

patricked11   July 6th, 2018 2:41 pm ET

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