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Legal Eagles

And The Verdict Is…

By Brian K. Carvell, Esq. Published January 2008

The recording industry places the blame for a drastic downswing in album sales on file sharing websites such as Napster and Kazaa. A few months ago I wrote about how the industry was beginning to fight back. Since 2003, record companies have filed over 26,000 lawsuits because of file sharing. While most of those sued are likely to settle prior to seeing the inside of a courtroom, one woman from Minnesota decided to fight back, and hers is the first file sharing case to go to trial.

Jammie Thomas was sued by six different record companies that accused her of illegally downloading songs without permission, and then sharing those songs on the Kazaa website. Thomas’ defense was simply that she didn’t have a Kazaa file sharing account, and she denied any wrongdoing.

These record companies, represented by the Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA), in proving their case, demonstrated that an account with the name “tereastarr” was created on Thomas’ computer, and that account was responsible for downloading the 24 songs at issue in the case (by such artists as Guns N’ Roses, Janet Jackson, The Goo Goo Dolls, Journey, and Gloria Estefan). The RIAA’s witnesses included an internet provider and a security firm, both of which confirmed that the tereastarr account was created and maintained on Thomas’ computer.

Thomas’ attorney’s response to the case presented by the RIAA was essentially, “Sure they can prove that a Kazaa account was created on Thomas’ computer, and that songs were somehow downloaded onto that computer, but they did not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was Thomas behind the keyboard when those songs were downloaded.”

Ultimately, the jury not only decided the case in favor of the RIAA, but they also took the opportunity to send a message to others illegally downloading music. The jury ordered Thomas to pay $9,250 for each of the 24 alleged violations – a total of $222,000. Additionally, attorney’s fees will also be automatically awarded in this case, so in total, Thomas may be on the hook for up to $500,000.

Thomas is appealing the decision, and it’s hard to say whether the RIAA will actually attempt to enforce the verdict. Thomas is, after all, a single mother. It won’t look good for the public image of the plaintiffs to break this poor woman. But either way, this is a huge verdict for the music industry. Expect more lawsuits to be filed, and more cases to be taken to trial. It’s just the beginning of the fight, but as of right now the score is: RIAA: 1, File-sharers: 0.

This article is not intended as legal advice. If you have specific legal concerns, I recommend that you personally contact an attorney.

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