Jury Rules: $1.92 Million Fine Against Filesharer

MINNEAPOLIS – A replay of the nation’s only file-sharing case to go to trial has ended with the same result — a Minnesota woman was found to have violated music copyrights and must pay huge damages to the recording industry.

A federal jury ruled Thursday that Jammie Thomas-Rasset willfully violated the copyrights on 24 songs, and awarded recording companies $1.92 million, or $80,000 per song.

[Source: Yahoo News]

I really don’t know why the RIAA hits people with these kinds of fines. I’m obviously no fan of pirates, but when I was a kid, I remember hearing that shoplifting carried a fine of 7x the value of goods you stole. But, $80,000 per song is a 80,000x fine. The RIAA and is also in another case against Brittany English aiming for 150,000:1 damages. Personally, I think piracy should carry a lesser penalty than shoplifting. I know that opens up problems for when trying to pursue court-cases, because small-fines aren’t really worth the time or effort, but oh well. (I’ve heard that some stores won’t even try to prosecute you if you shoplift small dollar-value items; it’s not worth their time. That’s the unfortunate side of small-penalties.)

The justice system exists not just to punish crime, but to punish it appropriately. This punishment is out of proportion to her crime (does anyone think she did $1.92 million worth of damage to the music industry?), which is an injustice in itself. I think everyone has a sense that say, shoplifting $24 worth of merchandise should carry a penalty, but it shouldn’t be an excessive penalty. We’d all be aghast if Walmart hit a shoplifter with a $1.92 million fine. This injustice just fuels dislike of the recording industry (and entire copyright-industry by association), and allows pirates to pretend that they’re the “good guys” here – as if the other side being “bad” somehow makes you “good”.

In general, I think people’s motivation for sharing digital media on the internet is to be nice to their fellow man. I think it feels completely different than, say, shoplifting. I’ve had pirates offer me pirated copies of this or that software because I happened to mention it, and it’s done with a “hey let me help you out” attitude. (And, no, I never take pirated media.) For that reason, I think uploading-pirates see themselves as helping out their fellow man – even if it hurts the big, evil, faceless corporation (assuming they think about the creator at all). I mean – how much more evil can you get than trying to stop people from “sharing”. It’s like the corporations are run by Gargamel. I’m kidding, of course. I don’t believe piracy can be reasonably compared to sharing, although, I think pirates probably view the world that way.

My guess is that the recording industry wants to cover their court costs, and paying lawyers to get a couple-hundred dollar ruling isn’t worth it. But, $1.92 million is still outside the range of reasonable lawyer costs. Or maybe their strategy is to scare the bejesus out of pirates – to send a message? Is that the purpose of these trials?

There are some hints that the recording industry won’t try to make her pay – and why would they, it’s not like she has the money. But, what does that mean? That a bad credit rating for the next seven years is her punishment?

Now, of course, she was uploading songs on Kazaa (rather than downloading them). Which means that she could potentially have shared with hundreds of people. But, I think any fine against her should be the minimum sufficient to stop her activity. Heck, she’d probably stop if she got a cease and desist letter in the mail. She also tried to get out of the accusations by claiming that someone else (her ex-husband or kids) did it, or that someone hacked into her wifi connection (even though she doesn’t have a wifi connection). I doubt that helped her case – the jury was probably insulted about being lied to. I’ve also read that her lawyer was trying to argue (in another case) that filesharing was “fair use” – which almost everyone (including anti-copyright activists) thought was a very bad argument. And the fact that she opted out of paying a settlement, and then keeps appealing the verdict (this is her second appeal and she plans for a third) probably isn’t helping at all.

There’s also something bizarre in the fact that she had a $1.92 million fine, but the PirateBay was hit with only a $3.6 Million fine (plus a year’s jail time). They’ve done far more damage to the creative industries than this woman.

The whole situation just leaves me feeling confused with a sense of injustice.

One thought on “Jury Rules: $1.92 Million Fine Against Filesharer

  1. This sort of reminds me of when the RIAA demanded thousands of dollars from college students for downloading their music or they would sue them. The college students obviously do not have that amount of money laying around and could very well get kicked out of school to boot. To me it seems that they are setting out to make examples – I doubt they even really want any compensation, they just want everyone to get the message that they cannot download and be safe from punishment.

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