Jury orders woman to pay US$222,000 for illegal music sharing

A Minneapolis woman has been convicted of illegally downloading and sharing copyrighted music over a peer-to-peer network.

A US federal jury, on Thursday ordered a Minneapolis woman to pay US$220,000 to six music companies for illegally downloading and sharing copyrighted music over a peer-to-peer network.

The 12-person jury said Jammie Thomas must pay US$9,250 for each of the 24 songs that were the focus of the case. In their complaint, the six music companies that sued her had claimed that Thomas had illegally shared a total of 1,702 songs over the Kazaa file-sharing network, but they chose to focus on a representative list of 24 songs.

The verdict was greeted with dismay by many in the blogosphere who have been following the case closely for some time now.

New York lawyer Ray Beckerman, writing in the Recording Industry vs The People blog, called the verdict "one of the most irrational things I have ever seen in my life in the law."

"A verdict of US$222,000 for infringement of 24 song files worth a total of US$23.76?" he asked. "It is an outrage, and I hope it is a wake-up call to the world that we all need to start supporting the defendants in these cases."

Commenting on Gizmodo.com, a reader identifying himself as DirtyBacon said he was shocked but not surprised by the verdict. "I guess my two mp3 players, that have thousands of songs that I bought on CD, are illegal contraband," he said. "My options of moving to Asian countries for work are looking more appealing. I've officially lost faith."

The six music companies that sued Thomas were Capitol Records, Sony BMG, Arista Records, Interscope Records, UMG Recordings and Warner Bros. Records.

In their 12-page complaint filed with the US District Court in Duluth, the six recording companies claimed that on February 21, 2005, an investigator working for the plaintiffs detected an individual -- later identified as Thomas -- distributing 1,702 audio files from a Kazaa shared folder on her computer.

The complaint alleged that Thomas was distributing the files for free over the Internet to potentially millions of other Kazaa users. The companies claimed that Thomas knew such conduct was unlawful but willfully proceeded with violating copyrights. They also said that Thomas intentionally concealed her infringement by "fabricating a clean hard drive to produce to Plaintiffs for inspection."

"Copyright infringement is a strict liability offense, and Plaintiffs need not demonstrate Defendant's intent to infringe, or even knowledge of infringement, in order to prove copyright infringement," the companies said in their complaint.

In her defense, Thomas, who is a single mother, claimed that she did not download anything from Kazaa or any other file-sharing network. She questioned whether the companies that were suing her were really the true copyright owners of the music in question.

In her formal statement to the court prior to the trial, Thomas said that even if the plaintiffs were able to prove that the IP address in question belonged to her, that didn't prove that she actually downloaded any copyrighted material. She claimed there might be "alternative theories" without mentioning what they were.

Yesterday's jury verdict after two days of testimony is likely to come as a shot in the arm for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which has brought thousands of lawsuits against individuals such as Thomas over the past few years in a bid to curb what it claims is rampant music piracy.

Earlier this year, it launched a campaign under which it allows individuals it identifies as having pirated music to settle claims against them at a reduced rate. In the past few months, it has sent out thousands of letters to individuals offering the presuit settlement option, which individuals can settle online if they choose.

Just last month, the RIAA sent out 403 of its prelitigation letters to 22 universities nationwide with instructions to forward the letters to the owners of specific IP addresses linked to illegal music downloads. The universities included Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, MIT, Purdue University and Arizona State University.

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Jaikumar Vijayan

Computerworld
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