A Duluth, MN jury of six men and six women has found Jammie Thomas liable for copyright infringement. The 24 shared songs ($24 on iTunes!) will now cost Thomas $220,000 in associated penalties, although jurors had the option to maximize the damage in upwards of $3 million. As it stands, Thomas will be paying $9,250 for each song -- perhaps it's luck that the RIAA only went after such a small handful of tunes, as opposed to her original library of 1,700 tracks.
Where does this put the state of the RIAA and the legal system? In future court cases, the RIAA now has to show that a computer, under a person's reasonable ownership, shared copyrighted files on the Internet. That's it. The actual person doesn't have to be placed at the computer at the time of sharing, nor does the RIAA have to prove that others downloaded the files -- the "I opened up my computer but nobody looked" defense.
As you might expect, the parameters of the decision now establishes a baseline for which the RIAA can -- and will -- engage in court battles with confidence. Expect the association to be a little less shy about fighting the legal fight against potential infringers that attempt to challenge RIAA litigation. With the Duluth ruling, the RIAA has found a new breath of fresh air.
Yesterday's prediction below:
As the patron saint of our podcast's "Copyright Corner" and an RIAA-hating geek, I've been following the association's first-ever jury case like a cat watching a string. For those in the dark, a brief synopsis of the story thus far: the RIAA doesn't like it when people share files, especially music files of its member record labels and artists. They used to not like it in a strictly pen-and-paper sense, but have long since upgraded to court battles, extortion, mountains of litigation -- it's not the whole nine yards, more a pass interference call after a 60-yard missed bomb.
Football analogies aside, the RIAA used to have a pretty high success rate with its tactics: find IP addresses that share files, file suit against John Does from the hosting ISP's home state, subpoena the ISPs for the real-world identity behind the IP addresses on the RIAA list, then offer the "infringers" a chance to settle out of court for a "discount" on the $750-per-song penalties that could come at the tail end of a lost lawsuit. The RIAA collects, the "infringer's" bank account takes one for the team, and everybody heads on home. The latter probably throws his router out the window, but I digress.
People are finally beginning to fight the lawsuits, giving the RIAA a bit more cause for concern and forcing this, the first jury trial to stem from the RIAA's merciless copyright claims. But as much as I scorn the RIAA's tactics and general ignorance of a consumer's right to do-with-purchases-as-he-or-she-pleases, I'm finding it hard to come to the defense of the... defendant... in question, Jammie "Tereastarr" Thomas. In short, she's screwed.
Let's look at the evidence. In the case, the RIAA's alleging the following:
At the time of the RIAA's sleuthing, Thomas' ISP assigned her a particular IP address as is standard with anybody trying to connect to the Internet.
The IP address was the exact same IP address that was sharing a bevy of songs (1,700) on the Kazaa network at the time of the RIAA's discovery.
The username "Terrastar" was logged into Kazaa and Thomas's cable modem at that time.
Thomas uses the name "Terrastar" on match.com, as her e-mail address, and on various other web site logins
Now, I'm no computer expert, but I'm pretty confident that there's only one possible scenario that would be of any use here: that somehow, someone else living in Thomas' living quarters accessed her computer without her knowledge and let the downloads run, run, run. Legally, I doubt that's convincing enough of an argument to prevent the Lord of Fines from visiting Thomas' bank account, but there's still one more factor to consider: technological ignorance, or what I like to dub the "Best Buy" factor.
The jury currently hearing the case is about as far-removed from the peculiarities of the Interwebs as Will is from being an awesome RTS player. It's no fault of their own. Some people just don't get technology. IP addresses, P2P, the nuances of "what connects a real-life user to a bunch of 1s and 0s" -- it's all weird science if you've never even been on the Internet (as some jury members have admitted). It's analogous to someone coming in to Maximum PC and spending 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, telling me about how quantum physics works. I'm not saying I'm not interested, but I'm pretty sure I'd be daydreaming after an hour or so of high-level concepts wooshing by my head. If this jury's the same way, Thomas won before she even walked into the courtroom.
Thomas' lawyers have not called any witnesses in her defense, effectively skipping that part of the trial where you, you know, try to give cause as to why the allegations against you aren't correct. As far as I'm concerned, she's thrown in the towel. Case closed. Let this stand as the first jury case the RIAA won against a copyright infringer, but more importantly, let it also be a record for future cases that you shouldn't half-ass your file-sharing. If you really must have that 50 Cent / Nine Inch Nails mash-up song, and you can't bear to pay for it, then at least cover your tracks a little bit. Open up your router. Put a sign on your door that says "free Internet from 6-10; come on in!" Blame it on the cat. Attack the RIAA's information collection methods. Hell, attack their "expert" witness, who seems to believe that you can find the internal IP address of computers behind a router. Which is certainly possible, but you'd have to examine the router logs itself to tie a specific computer to a specific IP. All valid options; it's unfortunate this case will go in the RIAA's favor, and it's hard to know who to blame -- the guilty defendant, or the anemic defense.