RIAA Stamping Out Music Piracy One Single-Mother-of-Two at a Time
The case is Virgin Records America et al. v. Thomas, and it pits Jammie Thomas, a single mother of two from central Minnesota, against the RIAA, which claims she distributed more than 1,700 audio files on file-sharing site Kazaa in 2005. Thomas could have settled out of court for $3,000–perhaps even through the RIAA’s handy online settlement processing site, but refused, protesting her innocence. Now, she faces a potential liability of $3.9 million in damages, plus legal fees.
“The plaintiffs don’t have the evidence that she downloaded anything,” Thomas’s attorney, Brian Toder, told jurors yesterday. “The best that they can come up with is somebody out there in cyberland … offered on Kazaa some copyrighted material.” His point: while the RIAA has the Internet protocol address it claims was used to illegally share the songs at issue in the case, it must demonstrate that Thomas was actually using it in order to win the case. And that may well prove difficult.
“In sum, the case will be the first test of the RIAA’s ability to sell a jury on its investigative methods, which have a degree of imprecision because of the anonymous nature of the Internet,” writes Jon Healey of the Los Angeles Times. “Internet protocol addresses aren’t painted on the side of a computer like a street address, and even if the RIAA were able to trace a shared file back to a specific PC or Mac, it’s not easy to prove who was sitting at the keyboard. It will also be the first chance for a judge to instruct a jury on the legality of making songs available for others to download. And it will be the first time a jury will weigh whether to bring the hefty penalties provided under copyright law down on a consumer–in Thomas’s case, one who probably spends more on music than its members do.”