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Minn. Woman to Pay for Illegal Music Downloads

A federal judge ordered a Minnesota woman to ante up thousands of dollars for violating copyright laws by sharing music illegally downloaded, marking the first time such a suit against an individual had gone to trial.

Jammie Thomas has to pay $222,000 for the dozens of songs she pulled from the Internet.

"This does send a message, I hope, that downloading and distributing our recordings is not OK," said Richard Gabriel, the lead attorney for the music companies that sued Thomas.

He made the comments late Thursday when the three-day civil trial in Duluth, Minnesota ended.

In closing arguments he had told the jury: "I only ask that you consider that the need for deterrence here is great."

Thomas, 30, was ordered to pay the six record companies that sued her $9,250 for each of 24 songs they focused on in the case. They had alleged she shared 1,702 songs in all.

Copyright law sets a damage range of $750 to $30,000 per infringement, or up to $150,000 if the violation was "willful." Jurors ruled that Thomas' infringement was willful but awarded damages in a middle range.

The record companies accused Thomas of downloading the songs without permission and offering them online through a Kazaa file-sharing account.

Thomas denied wrongdoing and testified that she didn't have a Kazaa account.

Since 2003, record companies have filed some 26,000 lawsuits over file-sharing, which has hurt sales because it allows people to get music for free instead of paying for recordings in stores.

It was the first time one of the industry's lawsuits against individuals who download music from the Internet had gone to trial. Many other defendants settled by paying thousands of dollars to the companies.

But Thomas, of Brainerd, Minn., decided she would take on the record companies on grounds that she had done nothing wrong.

"She was in tears. She's devastated," her attorney Brian Toder said. "This is a girl that lives from paycheck to paycheck, and now all of a sudden she could get a quarter of her paycheck garnished for the rest of her life."

Gabriel said no decision had yet been made about what the record companies would do, if anything, to pursue collecting the money from Thomas.

During the trial, the record companies presented evidence they said showed the copyrighted songs were offered by a Kazaa user under the name "tereastarr."

Their witnesses, including officials from an Internet provider and a security firm, testified that the Internet address used by "tereastarr" belonged to Thomas.

Toder said in his closing argument that the companies never proved "Jammie Thomas, a human being, got on her keyboard and sent out these things."

"We don't know what happened," Toder told jurors. "All we know is that Jammie Thomas didn't do this."

Illegal downloads have "become business as usual. Nobody really thinks about it," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which coordinates the lawsuits. "This case has put it back in the news. Win or lose, people will understand that we are out there trying to protect our rights."

From NPR reports and The Associated Press