The first jury trial for a file-sharing suit brought by the major record labels has resulted in a $222,000 fine for a Minnesota woman accused of downloading and distributing more than 1,700 songs on the file-sharing site KaZaA.
The court also forbid the woman, Jammie Thomas-Rasset, from making sound recordings available for distribution in the future.
Prosecuting 1,700 songs might have been bit unwieldy, so the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) instead focused on 24 illegally downloaded and shared music files.
A group of six recording companies first contacted Thomas-Rasset in 2005 after hiring MediaSentry, an online investigative firm, to look into suspected copyright infringement.
She turned down their initial demand of a $4,500 settlement.
According to a federal court ruling (PDF) on Tuesday, Thomas-Rasset argued that she never heard of KaZaA, that she didn’t have KaZaA on her computer, and that she didn’t use KaZaA to download files.
In a string of appeals, she also offered up her boyfriend or children as possible culprits.
Unfortunately for the defendant, the RIAA pulled in a forensic investigator who said that when the RIAA first came knocking, Thomas-Rasset whipped out her hard drive and replaced it with a new, KaZaA-scrubbed, downloaded-song-free hard drive.
Even without forensic evidence, her proclaimed ignorance of KaZaA was questionnable. After all, Thomas-Rasset isn’t a naïve P2P newbie. This is a woman who reportedly authored a case study about the legality of Napster.
Meanwhile, the fine has been bouncing from court to court and from $222,000 on up to $1,920,000, back down to $54,000, back up to $1.5 million, until finally, with the latest court ruling, it came to rest again at $222,000. This sum might not be too bad, the defendant said, particularly when compared with that potential high of $1.9 million.
And it’s most certainly better than what she would have theoretically had to cough up if the RIAA had the wherewithal to stick it to her for having allegedly infringed 1,700 copyrighted recordings at a $9,250 fine per song.
Thomas-Rasset has filed a motion that any statutory damage awards would be unconstitutional in her case.
Her lawyer, Kiwi Camara, told The Guardian that they would try to take the case to the US Supreme Court.
Do these bilious sums make the RIAA look like a bunch of bad guys?
I’d say so. The shakedowns have been a PR debacle, and some could argue that it paints the association as a bunch of out-of-touch, money-grubbing, big-business jerks.
In 2009 court filings, the RIAA stated that it had sued some 18,000 people for sharing music.
According to court filings (PDF) from a class action lawsuit against the recording industry, 11,000 of those 18,000 people either settled immediately or, for whatever reason, weren’t prosecuted by the recording companies.
According to Ars Technica, Thomas-Rasset’s case has been the only one that’s come to an actual trial since the RIAA began its prosecution campaign years ago.
In 2008, the industry group hung up its litigation hat and instead enlisted ISPs to act as guard dogs to watch over the goods.
Nowadays, instead of seeking to shake down people for massive sums, the RIAA is instead asking ISPs to send gentle reminders that, ahem, pardon us, but what you’re doing is, you know, like, illegal?
Regarding what a true, fair fine would be, as in, something in the realm of what the association could feasibly recoup, I came across this anonymous comment:
The actual economic loss is what $1.99 per song? Let's say it was intentional, why not triple it like the patent law. $2 x 24 x 3 approx. $150. The figure of 9k per song is complete BS.
Well, yes, or perhaps they should employ the statutory minimum of $750 per song, which, for 24 songs works out to $18,000.
Punitive? Yes. Life-ruining? Hopefully not.
Artists deserve to get paid for their work.
But these fines are berserk.
Let’s hope the case does go to the Supreme Court, as the lower courts don’t have much say in the matter of these inflated fines.
USB stick, warning on screen and headphones on laptop images courtesy of Shutterstock
32 comments on “Minnesota woman fined $222,000 for 24 illegal song downloads”
"The actual economic loss is what $1.99 per song? Let's say it was intentional, why not triple it like the patent law. $2 x 24 x 3 approx. $150. The figure of 9k per song is complete BS."
This logic is faulty because it assumes that the songs where only downloaded/uploaded once.
More correctly would be $2 x 3 x (downloads/uploads) = economic loss.
That's to assume those she uploaded it to wouldn't have gotten the files somewhere else.
That logic doesn’t work either. Who’s to say that the people that uploaded/downloaded the song weren’t also fined for downloading the same song? The recording industry could get thousands of dollars per song that way also.
This shouldn't even be a punishable offense. Copyright isn't a right and it isn't right. Once you publish something it is public. In case it slipped anyone by, that is what the word originally means, 'to make public'. People can get paid for good ideas but if it is only by means of an artificial, government-imposed monopoly then there is a fair chance they don't deserve to.
Might as well abolish all private property while we're at it.
Stealing it via a file or slipping that DVD into your coat from Best Buy are the same thing. In fact, one could argue that stealing it via file sharing is worse because you're ostensibly helping others to stealing it as well.
No, because when you file share you copy a digital resources that has no physical value. If someone was to pirate your car for instance, sure someone has your car but you also still have that exact same car. It’s just copying and sharing, not stealing and taking from others.
The thing being protected is the creators ability to control the scarcity of their product, it’s sad to recognise this reality but it’s an inevitable outcome of the idiocy that is the monetary system.
It doesn't matter if the fine was a million dollars, if you don't do it, you don't have anything to worry about.
STOP STEALING MUSIC !!!
It's just that easy.
Don't bother trying to justify it.
Courts have ruled that the copyright law stands as is.
I agree, the sum is staggering for just downloading a small number of songs. But isn't part of the charge that she shared them? to an unknown number of people? I'm less sympathetic. I agree that the music industry is taking a ridiculously hard line here, and I don't think that gentle ISP reminders are going to cut it (although a friend who routinely downloaded and shared new TV episodes stopped doing so (at least sharing) immediately upon receiving a 'gentle reminder' that her behavior was illegal, so perhaps I'm wrong).
Artists do deserve to be paid for their work, but for the most part they’re not being paid fairly by their record companies in the RIAA, and they’re not going to see a cent of these fines either. This is simply racketeering with a lawyer instead of a baseball bat.
Old media has got to grow up and learn that while it sucks to have their product freely distributed, it is not the same thing as having their goods stolen. In fact, if she had just stolen a bunch of CDs, the defendant would probably have faced a far lesser punishment. We do need to have a conversation about what to do with sharing digital files, but we can’t do that until the supposed gate-keepers realise that the barn door is long open and nobody is losing horses, people just don’t have to buy the horses to ride them anymore. And legalised crooks like the RIAA don’t really have a place at the table anymore.
1 – The title of the article is wrong: she wasn't fined for downloading but for distributing;
2 – While the court case was filed for 24 songs, she was caught distributing 1700 songs;
3 – at the statutory minimum of $750 per song the 1700 songs would have cost her $1,275,000;
4 – she was offered and declined a settlement of $4500, which would have been $2.65 per song
So: she violated the law and was caught; she refused a settlement and ended up with much higher court judgments. She should now stop complaining and take her losses.
"Artists deserve to get paid for their work."
"But these fines are berserk. "
I agree with both of these statements and would also like to point out that something a bit funny. While this is presented as being about the poor starving artists, what do you think the odds are that the artists will see so much as one cent of this fine? I'm willing to bet that even if the fines get paid in full they will magically vanish into all kinds of places but they will not ever make it to the pocket of any artists. Unless you count "scam artists" as being a real art.
This is a complete abuse of the spirit of copyright laws. Copyright laws are supposed to protect the artist/inventor's intellectual property. They are not supposed to be an avenue for corporations to rake in millions by suing people into ruin. Like the article stated (in so many words) the punishment should be punitive, not life shattering. There are people who commit murder who have less restitution than what this woman got. I don't know if she tried to sell, or profit off the downloaded content as that would change my outlook somewhat, but if she just downloaded the content to enjoy then I think the punishment far outweighs the crime.
You guys are forgetting one thing. The artist get around 2% to 10% of "reported sales". Of that percentage they still have to pay out other fees. My uncle was a recoding artist and got stiffed pretty bad. The producers still collect to this day, but he has not receive a check in over 10 years. The producers are pretty sneaky with their contracts. They legally screwed him over.
The only people getting rich here is the producers who make a living out screwing every one. The artist, the fans who purchase the tracks legitimately, but cant transfer them due to drm, and last but not least the ones caught file sharing.
"Artists deserve to get paid for their work."
Do you really think that the money coming from these lawsuits are actually going to the artists? They are seeing MAYBE pennies on the dollar, if they are lucky.
These sums may make the RIAA look like bad guys, but unfortunately ANY sum would make them look like "bad guys" because they are dealing with people who don't respect copyrighted works and grew up thinking stealing is OK.
I am tired of reading of such US nonsense
Sharing, as one might be doing when using Bit Torrent to obtain a track, seems clearly worse than purely down loading the track, since one is facilitating others' efforts to pick it up for free. However, if one obtains no benefit from the sharing aspect, I don't think it's a justification for increasing the award; rather, the rights owners can obtain awards against all those who received a download from you.
The rights owner's loss, when you take an unauthorised copy of a work, is hard to establish, except where it is clear the particular work was essential to you; overwhelmingly, the purchase, the owner would have liked you to make, would have been discretionary. However, the loss surely can't surpass the price at which the owner was willingly offering copies of the work to people such as you.
Should someone defraud you, and you successfully sue, would you, as an ordinary citizen, ever be awarded more than the original amount?
Songs are .99 most of the time. Digital albums $6.99. If you can't cough up that small of an amount, then the alternative kind of has to be steep.
As I’ve said before, people are just better off stealing the CD’s from a store than downloading illegally. I’m not justifying theft, but the fines are so ridiculous – why do I feel RIAA is the only one that doesn’t see that (or do they see that and just not care)
Blame the lawyers, they seem to be the ones that want the big bucks. Like the Facebook class action suit that netted them some 10 million and the people that took the hit, nothing. I can say hopefully they will walk themselves into a box where they can't get out and pay some money to the people that need them or when their pocket overflows, we can pick whats left up off the floor.
The RIAA is also mis-using the legislation because the $9250 fine per work was meant by Congress to apply to entire albums, not individual songs. Look at it this way: I pirate 10 three-minute songs from a CD, and pay $92500, or I pirate a 3 hour movie and pay $9250.
She should only be paying around $18000 for the equivalent of two CDs. Unfortunately, despite this major flaw in the law, there has been little movement to get Congress to fix the wording to scale the fine reasonably for individual songs.
No matter what happens, the original artists of the alleged infringed works will see none of this money. The RIAA will have to use this to recoup their extensive costs from their earlier litigation attempts.
I think this person is/was clearly a deliberate abuser over many years and from her behaviour knew perfectly well what she was doing was wrong both morally and criminally, and yet persisted in aggravating her previous acts.
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The RIAA will disappear, whatever they do. They are too stupid to see the world has changed. Instead of adapting their distribution process they try to stick to their deprecated vision wasting all their money on useless trials instead of investing it in research and development…
They don’t understand the nature of the digital universe, they mistake copying for stealing. There is no way to estimate the money lost or gained because of file sharing… All those trials should be cancelled just on that basis.
Many studies showed that the people who downloaded the most were also those who bought the most…
[Post edited for length.]
There seem to be a number of people here conflating copying with stealing.
If you steal something the original is gone – you deprive the owner of his property. If you copy something he still has his and now you have one too. Copying is not theft and it is not stealing. This is copyright infringement. There is a real and important difference between the two. Of course, those industries whose current business model depends upon these artificial monopolies (which are, of course, antithetical to a true free-market economy) would rather see the distinction ignored and suppressed.
What she did was neither wrong morally (she did not steal anything) nor criminally. In case you are unaware copyright infringement (which she is undoubtedly 'guilty' of) is not a criminal offense – it is a civil offense.
I wish these articles would stop using the word "download" since that's NOT what she was found guilty of.
What she was guilty of was UPLOADING (or seeding) those files to other people, That is what is illegal not the downloading part.
But in order to cement the idea that sharing is bad and illegal I guess they have to keep calling it "illegal downloading" instead of what it really is, which is "distribution without a license" which has been going on since before the internet was even around.
What all previous comments seemed to miss is that downloading once through a bittorrent client means simultaneously sharing it with any number of other users, by simply not knowing how to turn that function of the bittorrent client off. Meaning she (or someone in her household) might not have done anything more than use a bittorrent client with default settings to download a few tracks. Not necessarily a heinous distributor.
September 14, 2012 at 12:21 am: “Sharing, as one might be doing when using Bit Torrent to obtain a track, seems clearly worse than purely down loading the track, since one is facilitating others’ efforts to pick it up for free.”
Has someone lost their calculator? 1700 x 9250 != 9.25 million.
Guess we'll have to go back to borrowing and burning our friend's c.d.s ..