Illegal Downloads Cost Mother $1.92 million
A court has ruled that Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a 32-year-old mother of four, must pay $1.92 million in damages to record companies for illegally downloading 24 tracks off of file-sharing services like Kazaa. This amounts to $80,000 per song. This is one of the last few lawsuits in the courts pertaining to illegal downloads, as the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has said they will discontinue the suits in favor of working with ISPs to stop illegal downloads.
An attorney with the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, Fred von Lohmann, claims that this level of punishment could result in constitutional challenges on two fronts. First, because the Supreme Court has already made it clear that excessive punitive damages awards violate the Due Process clause, and second because no single defendant may be made an example of in order to deter other potential violators.
The RIAA is continuing to wind down other lawsuits as well. Last week, Universal Music Group was forced to settle a previously filed lawsuit as the defendant, Mavis Roy, didn't even own a PC at the time of the alleged violation. It's possible Universal settled the case quickly to avoid removing credibility from their investigative media firm, MediaSentry. MediaSentry uses IP based targeting, which has come into question during many of the previous trials.
Ms. Thomas-Rasset was accused of illegally sharing over 1,700 recordings, but specifically sued for 24 songs. Some of the artists included Sarah McLachlan, Goo Goo Dolls, Janet Jackson and Godsmack. Musician Richard Marx, one of the artists that created one of the 24 songs Ms. Thomas-Rasset shared, issued a strongly worded statement against the RIAA:
"As a longtime professional songwriter, I have always objected to the practice of illegal downloading of music. I have also always, however, been sympathetic to the average music fan, who has been consistently financially abused by the greedy actions of major labels. These labels, until recently, were responsible for the distribution of the majority of recorded music, and instead of nurturing the industry and doing their best to provide the highest quality of music to the fans, they predominantly chose to ream the consumer and fill their pockets.
So now we have a "judgment" in a case of illegal downloading, and it seems to me, especially in these extremely volatile economic times, that holding Ms. Thomas-Rasset accountable for the continuing daily actions of hundreds of thousands of people is, at best, misguided and at worst, farcical. Her accountability itself is not in question, but this show of force posing as judicial come-uppance is clearly abusive. Ms. Thomas-Rasset, I think you got a raw deal, and I'm ashamed to have my name associated with this issue."
According to the offical RIAA blog, the RIAA is treating the jury's verdict as a declaration that the majority "understands and believes that the same laws and rules we follow every day apply online." They equated the trial to a form of market research, with the focus group being the 12 jurors, proving that "the digital world" didn't "resemble some kind of new wild west".
Ms. Thomas-Rasset has a few options at this point to challenge the verdict. She can appeal it to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, likely a costly affair. She can challenge the verdict based on the Eighth amendment to the Constitution: "excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted". She can also simply stop fighting and settle with the RIAA. She was previously offered a settlement of $5,000 early in the trial, but declined. She also may be able to declare bankruptcy, assuming the debt to the RIAA qualifies.