File-sharer fined nearly $2m in landmark case

Recording giants secure victory in fight against single mother with limited means
Click to follow
The Independent Tech

They may not see much of it, but the world's biggest recording companies were celebrating yesterday after securing a $1.92m (£1.15m) verdict against a Minnesota woman who was found to have downloaded and shared tracks over the internet from artists like Green Day and Sheryl Crow in violation of their copyright.

"The only thing I can say is good luck trying to get it, because you can't get blood out of a turnip," remarked Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a single mother of four, after hearing the judge's verdict at the end of a four-day trial in Minneapolis. Her lawyers said she may either appeal or seek to negotiate a settlement with the Recording Industry Association of America which brought the case on behalf of the companies.

Of the roughly 30,000 lawsuits brought by the RIAA against alleged music file-sharers – or pirates – in the United States, only the one against Ms Thomas-Rasset came to trial. The vast majority of people targeted by the association agreed to settle for about $3,500 each.

The ease with which consumers can download music from the internet without paying and then share it with others online has bedevilled the recording industry for years as traditional CD sales have collapsed. Ms Thomas-Rasset was found to have offered as many as 1,700 songs to other users on the Kazaa file-sharing site in February 2005 before it became a legal music subscription service.

For simplicity's sake, however, the lawsuit targeted her sharing of just 24 songs. Others were by Gloria Estefan and Jon Bon Jovi. The jury at the trial concluded that Ms Thomas-Rasset should pay $80,000 per stolen song. The four recording companies named as plaintiffs were EMI Group PLC, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group.

"There's no way they're ever going to get that," Ms Thomas-Rasset, 32, added outside the courthouse. "I'm a mom, limited means, so I'm not going to worry about it now." This was her second trial. She did far better at the first, receiving a judgment of $222,000, but that verdict was thrown out by the judge after he decided he had made a mess of instructions to the jury.

The defendant told the jury last week that she had never shared any of the music being discussed, which for the first time raised the possibility that it was the fingers of one of her children or even her ex-husband at the keyboard. But the defence offered no evidence that it had been anyone but her.

A cyber-security company called MediaSentry was employed by the RIAA to track down and identify music pirates on the internet. Among those it ferreted out was Ms Thomas-Rasset. They found that on Kazaa, Ms Thomas-Rasset identified herself as "tereastarr", the same user name she employed on other sites including MySpace, the social networking site.

At trial she was represented by a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a consumer rights group that has called the tactics of the music giants unfair. "The disproportionate size of the verdict raises constitutional questions," Fred von Lohmann told reporters afterwards.

Last December, the RIAA said it was abandoning its then-strategy of pursuing individual music pirates, opting instead to work directly with internet services providers, ISPs, to try to fight the worst offenders.

While a representative of the RIAA, Cara Duckworth, would not put any figure on it, she hinted at a willingness to negotiate a deal with Ms Thomas-Rasset, who clearly will never have the means to pay the sum ordered by the jury. "Since day one we have been willing to settle this case and we remain willing to do so." She added: "We appreciate the jury's service and that they take this as seriously as we do."

What she downloaded

*Guns N Roses "Welcome to the Jungle", "November Rain"

*Sheryl Crow "Run Baby Run"

*Vanessa Williams "Save the Best for Last"

*Janet Jackson "Let's Wait Awhile"

*Gloria Estefan "Here We Are", "Coming Out of the Dark", "Rhythm is Gonna Get You"

*Journey "Faithfully", "Don't Stop Believing"

*Sara McLachlan "Possession", "Building a Mystery"

*Def Leppard "Pour Some Sugar on Me"

*Goo Goo Dolls "Iris"

*Aerosmith "Cryin'"

*Linkin Park "One Step Closer"

*Reba McEntire "One Honest Heart"

*Bryan Adams "Somebody"