A Minnesota jury has ordered a woman to pay $222,000 (£109,000) for sharing music over the internet, in what has been hailed as a landmark ruling.
Jammie Thomas, a native-American who works on an Indian reservation, was ordered to pay the six record companies suing her $9,250 for each of 24 songs they focused on in the case. The sum is equivalent to about five times her annual salary and is expected to force her into bankruptcy.
Ms Thomas's taste in music ran to tracks by the Swedish "death metal" band Opeth as well as Janet Jackson, Green Day, Guns N' Roses, Journey and Destiny's Child, among others.
She was sued by Arista Records, Capitol Records Inc., Interscope Records, Sony BMG, UMG Recordings Inc. and Warner Bros. Records Inc.
Illegal online music sharing is exploding in the US and the recording industry is fighting a rearguard battle to stop it. The victory against Ms Thomas seems unlikely to bring relief, however. The ruling is expected to deter only those casual users who surf the internet to find occasional tunes.
Ms Thomas told jurors that she never shared music with strangers. But evidence was presented showing that a user named "tereastarr" provided up to 1,700 songs for others to share over the internet. This was the name Ms Thomas used on the Kazaa file-swapping service, among others.
The defendant told the court she never downloaded music from the internet and that she has CDs of everything she listens to. "It's been very stressful," she said. "I have multibillion-dollar corporations with their own economies of scale suing me. All my disposable income went toward this case. I didn't do this, and I refuse to be bullied."
The jurors were told that a verdict against Ms Thomas would send a message to other illegal downloaders. "I only ask that you consider that the need for deterrence here is great," Richard Gabriel, the lead lawyer for the music companies, said.
Illegal downloads of music are 10 times more common than legal sales and are growing at 60 per cent a year, despite the high-profile legal campaign to stamp out the practice.
The six major record labels that sued Ms Thomas have brought lawsuits against 26,000 individual music downloaders across the country in the past four years. They are reluctant to fight every case in court and have had several costly setbacks before this week's victory. Instead they try to persuade those caught red-handed to settle for a relative slap on the wrist.
Nearly half of the case they have brought have been settled out of court, with the defendants usually paying out less than $5,000 and making a public apology.
The music industry hopes that the Thomas case will convince others accused of pirating music to settle their cases rather than go to court.Reuse content