How The RIAA and deep-pocketed Big Music got their way with a young, single mother of two

How The RIAA and deep-pocketed Big Music got their way with a young, single mother of two

Summary: My colleague Declan McCullagh offers a list of causes why that jury in Duluth, Minnesota assessed a $222,000 fine against Jammie Thomas for copyright infringement on 24 illegally downloaded tracks.He argues that:The RIAA was able to match a user name and IP address with Thomas- who, by the way,  chose a Kazaa user name that was the same as her email address.

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My colleague Declan McCullagh offers a list of causes why that jury in Duluth, Minnesota assessed a $222,000 fine against Jammie Thomas for copyright infringement on 24 illegally downloaded tracks.

He argues that:

The RIAA was able to match a user name and IP address with Thomas- who, by the way,  chose a Kazaa user name that was the same as her email address. Not very smart, Jammie.

The RIAA's lawyers offered two jury instruction suggestions that explain the sins of downloading and distributing copyrighted materials overP2P networks. Apparently, the defense did not contest these suggestions, which U.S. District Judge Michael Davis chose to adapt.

Jury Instruction 15 could have sealed the deal. It told the jury that the mere act of leaving copyrighted tracks in a public directory from which downloads was easy was essentially as bad as proving that actual downloads of these infringing files took place. The "harshness" of copyright law offers a way for plaintiffs to claim "statutory damages" rather than actual damages. Statutory damage claims in such cases can range from $750 to more than $30,000. Willful infringement kicks that up to $100,000.

"In this case, the jurors chose $9,250 in damages for each of the 24 songs, or $222,000," Declan writes. "They could have gone as low as $18,000 in total or as high as $720,000, and seemed to want to pick something closer to the middle."

Declan thinks that the RIAA will offer an olive branch, perhaps for one-tenth of the $222,000.

While Declan's right about the causes of the verdict. Still, we have to consider the underlying motivations of this controvery. What we have here is the RIAA, and Big Music, making an example of a non-affulent woman who made some unwise choices, and didn't appear to have as excellent a legal team behind her as her deep-pocketed adversaries.

Even if the RIAA makes her a say, $20,000 settlement offer she "can't refuse," tell me this. How's this young, single mother of two gonna pay even a fraction of that?

If the RIAA cares about musicians, I still say the most humane thing to do would be for Jammie to work off some of her fine in a community service role for a local music school or after-hours school music program. Driving kids back and forth to such schools, maybe an office assistant at such a program or institution, something in her skill set.

Topics: CXO, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Legal

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30 comments
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  • JammieAid

    The artists of the 24 tracks will end up getting nothing in compensation for the losses the RIAA has sued this lady for. They should get together and perform an aid concert to pay off the judgement and make it clear to the public that it is the RIAA, and not the artists, who are suing their fans.
    john-whorfin
    • Absolutely...

      Righteously so... It would be like the new Woodstock.
      harrisharris
      • RIAA Music

        Ridiculous the industry is trying to make an example out of people. They're muscling individuals who do not have

        money into settling out of court for a few thousand dollars. If this is left unchecked the industry can go after a huge number of potential offenders. The music need to advertise and send a message to teach people of the potential harm they are doing to artist and themselves. Get clean is the message. Do you believe the music industry should go after the distributors or the users of file sharing? -----> http://www.youpolls.com/details.asp?pid=648

        .
        PollM
  • Don't commit the crime if you can't do the time.

    Why is the RIAA being made out to be the bad guy here? She clearly broke the law and instead of settling chose to take it to court. Anyone with half a brain could see she was going to lose...and rightfully so.
    ye
    • bs

      You're full of crap, knucklehead. Somebody in your family probably has pirated music, too. Want them to go down, as well?
      harrisharris
      • Nobody has done it here.

        And if someone did I wouldn't be blaming the RIAA for their actions.
        ye
        • No, we are only blaming the RIAA for their actions. Going after a single

          mother because she is defenseless is pretty sick. There are rich kids doing this all the time, but the RIAA does not want to get into a fight with somebody that has money to properly defend themselves.
          DonnieBoy
          • They "went after" her because she was doing something illegal.

            They knew nothing about her when they first began investigating her. I'm sure she was given an opportunity to settle out of court just like the 20K + other people and she chose not to.

            The "she's a single mother" "defense" is pretty lame. Sinlge mothers break the law too.

            The RIAA is NOT the bad guy here.
            ye
          • Agreed, yet

            Even though they are not the bad guy in this case, they usually are in the fact that they extort money from artists and consumers alike.

            The only way to really speak out is not to buy anything, not to download anything and to just let the industry suffer.

            There are albums that don't support the RIAA. They don't have the recognition that others do because of that, but perhaps we should listen to them for a change.

            I cut the cable to the TV, and have been pretty happy. I don't rent as movies anymore because I can consume my time with other things. Music will probably slowly fade out of my life as well. I have 200+ legal cds, I think I can listen to them for a while yet.
            nucrash
          • I'll listen to whomever produces music I like.

            I am not going to listen to someone based on their association (or lack of) with the RIAA. No one is forcing the artists to sign with the big music companies. Nor is anyone forcing me to buy at the prices they set. I'll buy based on value to me and not some ideology about them being "good" or "bad".
            ye
    • The question is...

      ...are the assessed damages appropriate? $8000 per "song" seems rather steep to me when the going price for a whole album recorded on CD is under $20. Given that the current market value for single recordings is around a dollar, assessing $100 per recording (100 times the market value) for a total of $2400 would seem more appropriate and would likely serve as a sufficient deterrent to future infringements.

      Inflated damage claims as a means of encouraging settlement also encourage the innocent to plead guilty and are therefore unconscionable.
      John L. Ries
      • RIAA didn't impose the damges, the jury did. I am also...

        ...willing to bet that the initial RIAA offer was more in line with your "appropriate" number. But she elected to take it to court (God knows why, it didn't appear she had a leg to stand on). I am also willing to bet the RIAA will accept significantly less than the awarded amount. I don't think the RIAA is out to destroy this womans life.

        But in the end she has no one to blame but herself. The RIAA is NOT the bad guy here. I know such a position is unpopular but anyone with an ounce of ethics realizes this.
        ye
        • Still, the RIAA should go after somebody that has the money to properly

          defend themselves. Attacking a single mother that does not have the resources to properly defend herself is pretty sick.
          DonnieBoy
          • Standard procedure

            A defendant that doesn't have sufficient funds to hire her own lawyer is seen as an easy target. Unfortunately, this is just as true in criminal cases as in civil ones.
            John L. Ries
        • Thanks for the complement

          It's not often I'm accused by a complete stranger not having an ounce of ethics.

          I don't know enough about the case to judge the jury (in particular, I don't know what their instructions were), but I'll refer you to the second paragraph of my response (which you ignored). The practice of demanding greatly inflated damages as an incentive to out of court settlement is wrong because it encourages the innocent to plead guilty. That may not bother you, but it does me.
          John L. Ries
          • Never accused you of not having ethics.

            .
            ye
          • But you did

            Ye said:

            "But in the end she has no one to blame but herself. The RIAA is NOT the bad guy here. I know such a position is unpopular but anyone with an ounce of ethics realizes this."

            I've no quarrel with the RIAA suing her or with the decision of the jury to find her liable. I do have a quarrel with assessing thousands of dollars of damages per song, given the offense. I also have a quarrel with the strategy of asking for inflated damages should the defendant be brave enough to demand a trial (says me, it's akin to extortion). The damages assessed are akin to confiscating one's car, selling it at auction, and keeping the proceeds as punishment for a first time speeding ticket. The RIAA asked for and got a damage award that is far larger than seems appropriate to me ($2000-$5000 would likely have been sufficient) and far larger than she will likely ever be able to pay. To that extent, they are the bad guy here, though that does not excuse the defendant's own bad behavior.
            John L. Ries
          • No I didn't, and you just confirmed it.

            "I've no quarrel with the RIAA suing her or with the decision of the jury to find her
            liable."

            You are in agreement with me she did something wrong. Therefore you're not
            unethical.

            "I've no quarrel with the RIAA suing her or with the decision of the jury to find her
            liable. "

            Take it up with the jury as THEY were the ones who awarded the damages, not the
            RIAA.
            ye
          • That second quote should be:

            "I do have a quarrel with assessing thousands of dollars of damages per song, given
            the offense."
            ye
    • In-Justice

      No doubt she knows she is guilty. But,she probably couldn't afford the proposed settlement. I just hope she never attempts to pay the judgement. The judgement is excessive. And yes, the jury made the judgement based upon a readout of existing law. The law was created by the music industry sympathizers in congress and it is excessive.

      They have given her the lesson she deserves just putting her through the civil court wringer. Enough is enough.
      jwschull@...