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Jun222009

Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a 1.92 million dollar martyr against the RIAA

So the news came down that Jammie Thomas-Rasset was found guilty of sharing 24 songs on KaZaA. Her punishment: $80,000 per song, totaling $1.92 million in damages owed to the Recording Industry Association of America. That sum is about 8.5 times higher than an earlier Minnesota jury ruling, which had pinned the price Jammie owed per song at $9,250, totaling $222,000. Under current copyright law, the jury could have charged as little as $750 per song or as much as $150,000. 

What I think she should owe: $23.76. That’s how much it costs to buy 24 songs on the internet at the going rate of $.99 a song.

Assuming Jammie did “share” 24 songs on KaZaA back in 2004, it is impossible that she shared enough to cause $1.92 million in “lost sales.” According to a post on Moby, it would take nearly two million downloads of the 24 songs to reach $1.92 million, if we go by the $.99 average price of a song on iTunes. Her high-speed cable connection likely had an upload speed of about 256kps. At that speed, it would take more than nine years of 24/7 constant sharing to reach two million downloads. KaZaA had only been around for three years when this lawsuit was filed.

Is Jammie, a working-class single-mother of four, the public enemy that the RIAA wants? Probably not, but they’re too stubborn to back down. Unfortunately for them, she is too.

For the better part of a decade, the RIAA has filed tens of thousands of lawsuits against individuals for allegedly sharing songs on Peer-to-Peer (P2P) services like KaZaA and Lime Wire. Most people settle out of court for a few thousand dollars, but not Jammie. Her’s is the only case that has gone to trial.

The RIAA had lawsuits down to a science (they claim to have stopped since late 2008). Typically, a contracted company (MediaSentry, in Jammie’s case) would browse through KaZaA, find a computer “sharing” a particular song, and record that IP address and the names of the songs in that user’s “My Shared Folder,” which was the default directory for files in KaZaA. So the RIAA knows that Jammie’s computer was sharing files, and the names of those songs, but that is all it knows. There is no evidence on who, if anyone, actually downloaded the songs, or how they were obtained. To find out Jammie’s name, the RIAA had to file a lawsuit. This practice of issuing thousands of “John Doe” (nameless) lawsuits has led to a number of missteps through the years. It’s filed lawsuits against children, the elderly, and even deceased individuals.

Instead of suing its customer base and fighting online distribution, the recording industry should have spent the money to develop faster and easier legitimate ways to download music. In 2004, iTunes was the only major source for music on the net, and every file it sold came with DRM restrictions. It took until late 2007-2008 for iTunes to gain real competition (Amazon MP3 and Rhapsody). For nearly a decade illegal services like KaZaA were faster, simpler, and easier to use than legal ones. Jamie owes the RIAA, but really, it should be apologizing to her.

There is no way that Jammie can pay the $1.92 million dollars she owes by herself, but she does have a few options. She could try to settle with the RIAA for a few thousand dollars, like so many others have done. The recording association has indicated that it is still open to settling. Bankruptcy is another path. She could also challenge the constitutionality of the fine under the eigth amendment, hoping a higher court would rule the $1.92 million sum as an “excessive fine.”

In the mean time, Jammie is trying to raise some money. She has set up a website, freejammie.com, where donations can be made, and put out a YouTube video, hoping it will go viral. In the video, she says that she will continue to be a thorn in the side of the RIAA for as long as she lives because of what they have done to her and “thousands of others.”

Ars Technica has a great recap of each day of the weeklong trial.

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