RIAA v Thomas Post-Mortem

Earlier this month a Minnesota court found Jammie Thomas guilty of copyright infringement for sharing 24 copyrighted songs through Kazaa and awarded the RIAA $222,000 in damages. A few things came to light after trial. First, the jurors did not disagree about Thomas’s guilt, only about the amount of damages she should pay. The 4.5 hours of deliberations started with some jurors believing she should pay the maximum of $150,000 per incident, or $3.6 million total. More moderate views prevailed and they settled on $9,250 per incident. Thomas has moved the court to reconsider the damage award but since the award was on the low end of the possible range I don’t see a good argument to do so.

Second, Thomas is sticking to her story that she is not guilty because someone spoofed her IP address, taking aim at one juror who said he has never been on the Internet. “”They admit that they are computer illiterate. This person (Hegg) has never been on the Internet, so how can he say whether my story is possible? I’ve been contacted by Internet security experts who said that spoofing my address would have been trivial. Internet illiterate people are not going to be able to understand that.” The problem for Thomas is that none of the jurors bought her story. She didn’t offer any expert testimony to support it because, she says, she could not afford to do so. She could afford not to settle–the average RIAA file-sharing suit settlement is $4,000–and chose trial knowing that she could not afford to put on her defense? Sorry, Jammie but that makes no sense at all.

RIAA Wins Jury Verdict

The RIAA sued Jammie Thomas of Brainerd, Minnesota for copyright infringement for sharing 24 songs through Kazaa. Unlike every one of the 26,000 other people the RIAA has sued since 2003 who settled for an average of $4,000, Thomas chose to fight the charges . Last week she lost after a two day trial, the jury returning its verdict and ordering Thomas to pay $222,000 in damages after deliberating for less than five hours. The RIAA chose to focus its case on 24 of the more than 1,700 songs it claimed were shared in February 2005 by Kazaa user Terrastar. Thomas claimed that although she has used the name Terrastar on the Internet, she did not share the songs at issue. Her denial did not convince the jury in the face of testimony that linked Terrastar’s IP address “and other identifying information” to Thomas’s computer and modem. Thomas claimed a hacker spoofed her identifying data and “offered her hard drive for inspection” after being notified of the suit, but the jury apparently believed expert testimony that the drive she offered for inspection had been installed after she was warned of the potential suit. Jurors set damages at $9,250 per song, far below the $150,000 per incident maximum statutory damages–or $3.6 million–allowed by the Copyright Act. An award of court costs and the RIAA’s attorneys’ fees could push Thomas’s total liability to $500,000. Thomas said “I’m not going to ask for financial help [but] if it comes, I’m not going to turn it down, either.”

The judge followed the RIAA’s definition of infringing activity, instructing the jury that it could find Thomas liable if she made copyrighted songs available for copying, sparing the need to find that someone actually copied the songs shared by Terrastar. Some have criticized this definition of infringement, which finds support in copyright law. Yesterday Thomas announced that she will appeal the verdict and argue that the judge erred in delivering these instructions to the jury.

Since it began these lawsuits in 2003 “the number of people sharing files online at any given time has risen 69 percent to almost 9.4 million.” (Sources: Star-Tribune.com, Excite News, c|net News.com, The New York Times)