Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Here’s One Way to Get People to Pay for Music: Labels Win $2 Million Verdict in Downloading Trial

spankingDon’t want to pay $1 for a song on iTunes? Try $80,000 a pop. That’s what a federal jury in Minneapolis has told a woman to pay the music industry for illegally downloading 24 songs, bringing her total bill to $1.92 million.

This is the second time Jammie Thomas-Rasset has been ordered to pay the music labels for her use of file-sharing services. In a 2007 trial, a jury originally decided that she would owe $9,250 per song.

It’s unclear what prompted the jury to bump up her tab in the retrial, but it’s going to be academic anyway. The industry is making noises about settling, and 32-year-old Thomas-Rasset, who lives in rural Minnesota, doesn’t have $2 million lying around. In her words: “The only thing I can say is good luck trying to get it, because you can’t get blood out of a turnip.”

Lawsuits like the ones the labels filed against Thomas-Rasset haven’t worked: Music piracy has continued unabated, and while Apple (AAPL) sells about $2 billion worth of songs a year on iTunes, the overall market for digital music is flattening. That’s why the lawsuits are supposed to be relics of the past, replaced by a new strategy whereby music labels convince Internet service providers to help them police piracy.

But while the industry floated the concept six months ago, it has yet to get a single cable company or telco to sign on. And even if they do, there’s not a whole lot of incentive for the likes of Comcast (CMCSA) or AT&T (T) to really crack down on music pirates, who don’t take up much bandwidth and don’t steal anything the pipe guys care about.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work