Jammie Thomas-Rasset: The download martyr

RIAA fines Brainerd woman $220,000 for 24 songs

AT THE VERY end of a snowbound dead-end road outside Brainerd, in a small beige single-story house out in the woods, lives one of the world's most notorious cyber-criminals.

Sitting in her den with her family and dog on a recent weekend, Jammie Thomas-Rasset doesn't seem quite so threatening. Short and sturdily built, she wears her long dark hair parted down the middle.

She's got an ordinary job, as a brownfields coordinator for the Mille-Lacs band of Ojibwe in Brainerd. She spends most of her time figuring out how to get petroleum seepage out of former gas station properties. Weekends she spends shuttling her kids back and forth to their father, who lives in Superior.

There's not a lot of time in her life to be either the hero or the villain that so many people want her to be.

Ever since she was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America five years ago, Thomas-Rasset has become a central figure in the revolutions convulsing the music business. She's been featured in documentaries about remix culture and gets recognized in the supermarket from her appearances on the evening news.

Almost everyone who received a threatening letter from the RIAA in those days settled with the record labels instead of going to court. Not Thomas-Rasset—she was the first person to fight.

The result has been a seemingly endless legal battle, with three separate trials and the promise of more to come.

But as she's lost case after case, Thomas-Rasset has become something of a martyr to the digital revolution, a symbol of the lengths to which a powerful industry will go to protect an out-dated business model.

What Thomas-Rasset has going for her is a quality the record industry never expected: a complete refusal to surrender.

"In a lot of ways, this case is a vestige from another era," says Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which tracks digital copyright issues. "The industry has recognized this was a bad idea, but her case is still working its way through the system."

   

IN 2005, THE recording industry was in a full-fledged panic. Global sales were down for the fifth year in a row and showed no sign of hitting bottom any time soon.

The reason seemed pretty clear: Six years after suing the file-sharing service Napster into submission, the industry's business model was still being shaken to its foundations. In Napster's place, new networks for sharing mp3s sprung up like the heads of a hydra: Bearshare, Morpheus, Grokster, KaZaA, Gnutella, and dozens of other networks with equally silly names provided the young and tech-savvy with all the free music they could download.

It was as if the labels' most lucrative demographic of customers had suddenly turned against them.

So the labels decided to raise the stakes. They began suing music fans. By the beginning of 2005, the labels had filed 7,437 lawsuits against fans suspected of uploading copyrighted music.

Almost inevitably, those the labels sued rolled over and coughed up the money, figuring it would be cheaper to settle out of court than to hire a lawyer and be dragged into a courtroom to stare down giant corporations.

The strong-arm tactics brought in millions in settlements, though the RIAA says the windfall didn't even cover legal costs. And it didn't seem to be having much effect on file-sharing. Mostly, it was driving downloaders to more anonymous sharing systems like BitTorrent.

Meanwhile, the mass legal threats were such a blunt tool that obviously innocent people were getting wrapped up in the battle. Sarah Ward, a 66-year-old dyslexic retired grandmother, was threatened with a lawsuit over allegedly pirating millions of dollars in hard-core rap. The record industry said Ward perpetrated the heist using KaZaA, a Windows-only program, despite the fact that Ward owned a Mac.

But the record industry didn't seem to mind the collateral damages. As RIAA spokeswoman Amy Weiss said, "When you fish with a net, you sometimes are going to catch a few dolphin."

   

THOMAS-RASSET REMEMBERS THE day the letter came. It was August 2005. Bringing the mail in from the porch before starting dinner, one envelope stood out at her. The letterhead looked imposing. It was from the law firm of Shook, Hardy and Bacon.

"I didn't really understand what it was talking about, but it gave a number for me to call," she says.

When she called the number, the law firm wanted to talk to her about KaZaA.

"I said, 'What are you talking about?'" she says. "They're telling me that they know I'm sharing things on KaZaA—I didn't even know what KaZaA was."

Thomas-Rasset's protestations of ignorance didn't matter to the people on the other end of the phone. MediaSentry, a private investigation company hired by the RIAA, knew what KaZaA was. They also knew that someone on her internet connection was using it to share music online, as many as 1,700 songs.

For purposes of simplicity, the RIAA limited its complaint to two dozen songs, an eclectic list that included Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me," Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," Richard Marx's "Now and Forever," and Green Day's "Basket Case."

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21 comments
Nicolay Schjelderup
Nicolay Schjelderup

We have rape, war, murder, corruption, drug dealing, scamming and a ton of other crap going on every single fucking day, but with SOPA upcoming their priorities is just messed up. Rather than focusing on rape, war, murder, corruption etc. etc., they chose to sue innocent young people with their whole life ahead for millions of dollars.What the fuck?

Louie
Louie

I just took a dump listening to my new CD that I bought. Smelled really bad, but at least I had good music playing as I scrunched up my face and pushed it all out. It took two flushes to get it all down.

Sophia Green
Sophia Green

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Sophia Green
Sophia Green

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Sophia Green
Sophia Green

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Sophia Green
Sophia Green

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Sophia Green
Sophia Green

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Sophia Green
Sophia Green

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phoenixxx85
phoenixxx85

Even though the laws pertaining to this may be considered "out dated" by many it's still the law so by breaking the law there are consequences. She knew what she was doing i.e. the hard drive, the user name and I really wish everyone would stop calling her "the victim" for this. She could have settled out of court but *she* chose to pursue hearing after hearing in a Federal court with a jury of her peers *three* times to only be found guilty each time. Waste of our tax dollars is all it is.

http://blogs.citypages.com/blo...

Jae King
Jae King

She didn't uproaded the music and people treats her as a criminal.She acturly payed 99c which means she is not the person who takes the money out of musicans because she was just listening to those musics, but the court want's to punish her and torture her familiy.Funny thing is no one knows the difference between sharing,uproading,downloading and crime.No one tries to find out the person who asked her for the money at the first time.

Mark Gisleson
Mark Gisleson

I lost a hard drive Monday. On it there was more downloaded music than Thomas-Rasset has listened to in her entire life. Thank god my other four hard drives are doing fine. I've blogged endlessly about file sharing but because I owe the IRS money and because I have zero savings or reliable income, the recording industry ignores me. What kind of crime can only be committed if you have money? What kind of laws have the recording industry bribed Congress into passing?

In California, auto accidents are capped because it's insane to make an average Chevy-driving motorist pay six figures for rear-ending a Ferrari. A higher court needs to throw this judgment into the trash where it belongs.

Who cares?
Who cares?

You have financial problems, but you have four hard drives and Internet access? Maybe if your priorities weren't so messed up somebody would hire you?

Jae King
Jae King

There are peoples who takes the money out of downloaders and it is wrong becasue they shuld punish the people who puts those musics in the internet.Low is for the week peoples it is not alowed make 'example'.Ancient kings used to use this system and gave a fear to the citizens.Does your heart tells you it is wright judgement?Then I've got nothing to say.

Dan Haugen
Dan Haugen

I have very little sympathy for anyone involved here. The record industry's strategy of suing listeners was stupid, our copyright laws clearly don't reflect anything close to reality anymore, and Thomas-Rasset's story doesn't add up either -- the hard drive? the screen name?

It's wise for musicians and record labels to make their music affordable and accessible to fans, but if they choose not to, I've never understand how that becomes a license to steal. If you don't like the way a company does business, just don't buy their products. There's plenty of music to listen to that's put out by honest, hard-working labels/musicians who are worthy of your money. Speaking of which, I just paid $9.99 for the new Sims/Lazerbeak album...

And even if you don't have money to spend, there's plenty of free and legal music out there, too. Daytrotter. Pandora. Slacker. Web radio streams like The Current. Bandcamp. SoundCloud. YouTube. Promo mp3s on every record label website/blog. I've yet to hear/read a convincing ethical argument for why file-sharing of this type is morally acceptable. I'd love to hear one -- it'd probably end up saving me a good chunk of money.

Indie
Indie

As an independent songwriter and artist let me say, THANK YOU!

Chad Thomas-Rasset
Chad Thomas-Rasset

Her story only doesn't make sense to you because you don't know the whole story, like so many others, I play games online and you would be AMAZED how many people I've seen with the name tereastarr or some variation thereof that I KNOW aren't my wife lol The only thing needed to know is that our government needs to wake up and step in to stop this sort of extortion. The mob couldn't do it legally, why can the RIAA? Ridiculous, and the outcome in the end will justify the means :D

ShadowRunner
ShadowRunner

Kind sir, file-sharing cant be theft because nothing is missing.That like saying if my neighbour liked my picnic table and went home and built one just like it that means he stole my table. see how dumb that sounds? I don't have singer A's song, I have 5 megs of ones and Zeros that with the aid of various devices and or software makes a replica of singer A's song. see nothing is stolen, the CD is still sitting on the shelf at the record store. eeerrr I mean bestbuy

Another Poor Musician
Another Poor Musician

Musician's don't make physical things like tables - they make art which enriches the lives of others through a shared experience. So your analogy only serves to make you sound more uninformed.

ShadowRunner
ShadowRunner

How does that take away from my point? a CD is a physical object as is a cassette tape, vinyl record etc etc.... those are things you can steal.

guest
guest

Moral is a concept. Downloading or acessing music, in the case, without permission is not stealing. When u steal something from someone, someone loses that object. Copy and access is not stealing. And its not a debt either. Since, when sometinh is digitalized the owner loses control forever, so his is not the owner anymore. The real owner.

In a REAL democracy (not the fake one US make us to think HE represents) people has ALL THE RIGHT, the NATURAL right (a right tha cant be overpassed by humans laws) to CHOOSE what they can acess. If they choose to acess the pay restricted one, they do. They gain quality and the sure they will compensate the capital to maintain the future productions. If they choose the free one they do, they have the natural right to do, at least to "test" the quality of the material, if they dont know, case if they like they could choose the pay one and more quality. In the REAL democracy people gas this rights to choose whatever they want to fill their necessities and expectations. Why ? BECAUSE in a REAL democracy (made from people, by the people, for the people - everyone, no only the few reach one) they are NOT HOSTAGES of the "rights" of the reach few people, of the capital people, money people.

THIS legal situation, to criminalize people for acess of "forbiden" material is LIKE EVERYONE is a HOSTAGE of "rights" a FEW rich people given themselves (because we STILL leave ia n FEUDALISM era, that the LORDIES RUN the king! WHO made this laws and ideologies ? THE RICH PEOPLE! That RUNS the capitalism governaments! DEMOCRACY THIS ? USA WILL ONLY BE A DEMOCRACY WHEN THE RULES, THE LAW COULD BE MADE BY DE PEOPLE! ALL of their 280millions of populations could MADE their laws! NOT NOW, that the congress man are voted to WORKR FOR THE RICH, that are lobbing$ their pockets to made THEIR laws! Its a FARSE).

Jag_freemind
Jag_freemind

In your free-access-to-all-world, there would be nothing worth accessing because nobody could afford to buy food, shelter or clothing if they spent their time making digitized works.

I once asked a musician what he thought of internet music piracy. He said: "It's nothing compared to what recording did to our industry. Before recording, if you wanted to hear music, you needed an actual live musician and he or she would be paid for playing." It's ironic when the RIAA talks about helping musicians.

 
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