Music-Sharing Conviction Comes with Stiff Penalty

In Duluth, Minn., on Thursday, a federal jury convicted Jammie Thomas for copyright infringement for sharing music online. Thomas is to pay $9,250 for each of the 24 songs involved in the case. Eric Bangeman, who has been covering the trial for the tech Web site Ars Technica, talks with Michele Norris about what the case will mean for future litigation involving file sharing.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

It has been build as a key legal victory for the music industry. A federal jury yesterday found that Jammie Thomas of Brainerd, Minnesota was liable for copyright infringement for sharing music online. The jury imposed a penalty of $220,000, a little over $9,000, for each of the 24 recordings that Thomas allegedly swapped online.

Jammie Thomas' case was the first case bought by the Recording Industry Association of America to go all the way to trial. She denied that any of the music on her computer had been shared.

To find out what the ruling means for the recording industry and for those who download music online, we turn to Eric Bangeman. He's been covering the trial for the technology Web site Ars Technica.

ERIC BANGEMAN: The recording industry said she logged on to a file-sharing network called Kazaa and that she had entire folder full of MP3 files, and that those files were available for anybody else on the network. And there were, according to the RIAA's exhibits, over two million people logged on at the time that the infringement was detected. And so they, you know, alleged that she was distributing the music to other people for downloading and that she had also downloaded much of the music herself.

NORRIS: So it seems like one of the key questions here is whether she actually distributed the songs or just made them available?

BANGEMAN: Yeah. That's - it might not sound like a big distinction, but it actually is and that was one of the key areas of the case. There's an - and these file-sharing cases, there's been a lot of discussion over whether making a song available on a file-sharing network is the same as distribution under the Copyright Act.

NORRIS: So if we were to draw an analogy with, say, a criminal court, this might be like possession with intent to distribute?

BANGEMAN: Yeah. That's probably a pretty good comparison.

NORRIS: The Recording Industry Association of America has filed more than 20,000 of these lawsuits, trying to get a handle on this copyright piracy. I just want to ask you another question about the plaintiff in this case, Jammie Thomas. Of all the lawsuits that have been filed, this is the only case that's actually gone to trial. Why did she decide to fight this?

BANGEMAN: Well, she said the cost of hiring an attorney for a retainer was pretty much the same as it would have cost her to settle with the RIAA before it goes the trial. The RIAA typically demands a settlement of $3,000 to $4,000 before it's willing to drop a lawsuit. So from her standpoint, it probably seemed like an even trade off. In the wake of the verdict and at $222,000 infringement judgment, she might be having second thoughts about that.

NORRIS: And does this campaign - if we could call it that - continue, are they still filing these lawsuits?

BANGEMAN: Yes, they are. More recently, they've moved towards college campuses, starting to target college students by sending what they call these notification letters to IT administrations at campuses across the country. And I think they've targeted over 50 campuses so far and filed several hundred lawsuits directed primarily at the college students.

NORRIS: With the growth of iTunes and other sites that allow you to actually purchase music by the song or by the album, is there still a lot of piracy going on?

BANGEMAN: Yeah, there is. There is still a fair amount of piracy going on. It's leveled off. And I think part of that is because the record labels have made their online offerings more attractive to consumers. But if they had done this a few years ago and been ahead of the curve instead of way behind it, we probably wouldn't be looking at 20,000 plus lawsuits today.

NORRIS: Eric Bangeman, thanks so much for talking to us.

BANGEMAN: My pleasure.

NORRIS: Eric Bangeman is the managing editor for Ars Technica or the art of technology Web site.

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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

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