RIAA Wins First Illegal File Sharing Trial
A Minnesota jury awarded the RIAA $220,000 against Jammie Thomas for illegally downloading 24 songs online on the Kazaa file sharing network. Thomas, a single mother, contended she never downloaded any of the signs and her lawyer argued there was no way to prove who actually downloaded the songs. This is the first of the case to go to trial. The RIAA has sued more than 26,000 for similar violations.
The jury took only five hours to reach their decision– a $9,250 fine for each of 24 shared songs cited in the case, including Godsmack’s “Spiral,” Destiny’s Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” and Sara McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery.” The fine could have been as much as $150,000 per song had the jury determined she wilfully engaged in copyright infringement.
The RIAA previously offered her, and thousands of others, a settlement in exchange for the payment of a couple thousand dollars. The RIAA has lost some battles in the past, but this victory may convince many others it is not worth the fight. The decision is likely to be appealed unless the parties agree to settle for a nominal amount so the RIAA can use this as a club in future disputes.
Declan McCullagh over the Iconoclast blog on C|Net.com offers “Four reasons why the RIAA won.” He writes the first was that the RIAA was able to match a username and IP address with Thomas. Thomas used the Kazaa username “tereastarr” and had an email account with hotmail with the same account.
McCullagh next points to the jury instructions in the jury charge. The judge agreed to the RIAA’s version of the instructions which included:
JURY INSTRUCTION NO. 14: The act of downloading copyrighted sound recordings on a peer-to-peer network, without license from the copyright owners, violates the copyright owners’ exclusive reproduction right.
JURY INSTRUCTION NO. 15: The act of making copyrighted sound recordings available for electronic distribution on a peer-to-peer network, without license from the copyright owners, violates the copyright owners’ exclusive right of distribution, regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown.
McCullagh claims the “making available” instruction was the key issue because it prevents the RIAA from proving others actually copied the music from Thomas’ file.
Finally, McCullagh claims “copyright law is harsh” because finding liability, the jury was forced to pick a fine between $18,000 and $720,000.