Jammie Thomas-Rasset: The download martyr

RIAA fines Brainerd woman $220,000 for 24 songs

After letting Thomas-Rasset know that the RIAA had the goods on her, the caller moved on to the next part of the script: It wasn't too late. All could be forgiven, it could all go away. She just needed to make a public apology, promise to never do it again, and cut a check for several thousand dollars.

"When I heard that, I was like, 'What?'" Thomas-Rasset says. "It sounded like a shakedown. It was like some kind of extortion."

With her back against the wall, Thomas-Rasset did what almost no one else had done before her: She refused to pay up.

Jammie Thomas-Rasset at home with her son Tarent
Steve Kohls
Jammie Thomas-Rasset at home with her son Tarent

"It was actually a pretty easy decision for me," she says.

For one thing, she didn't have thousands of dollars lying around. A single mom, she was raising her two sons in a small rented apartment in Brainerd on a blue-collar salary.

But the stakes were high: If she was found liable, Thomas-Rasset would be on the hook for a lot more than the cost of those 24 songs. Federal law allows statutory damages up to $150,000 per violation. In Thomas-Rasset's case, that would total $3.6 million.

She was unfazed. Her father took out a loan against his motorcycle to help her scrape together the retainer fee for a lawyer, and she told the record industry to bring it on.

   

THE TRIAL DIDN'T go well for Thomas-Rasset.

The record companies' lead lawyer, Richard Gabriel, had the rehearsed confidence and impeccable hair of a politician. Pacing the white marble courtroom, he set out his case methodically.

The RIAA's investigation firm, MediaSentry, provided screenshots showing the music they downloaded from a KaZaA user named Tereastarr using the IP address 24.179.199.117.

The security manager from Thomas-Rasset's internet provider testified that on the February night MediaSentry was downloading the Goo Goo Dolls and Sarah McLachlan from that address, it was assigned to Thomas-Rasset.

Thomas-Rasset's lawyer, Brian Toder, did his best to introduce reasonable doubt. What if Thomas-Rasset was using a wireless router and someone outside the apartment leeched off her connection? What if someone hacked into her account and used her name?

"The best that they can come up with is that somebody out there in cyberland, somebody out there using an IP address, an account that was assigned to Jammie Thomas, offered on KaZaA some copyrighted material that was downloaded by plaintiffs," Toder argued. "Jammie Thomas didn't do any of that."

But Gabriel had other evidence suggesting that the KaZaA user Tereastarr wasn't someone sneaking onto Thomas-Rasset's computer connection.

"Her email address is now and in the past Tereastarr," he told the jury. "Her instant message address was Tereastarr. She used the Tereastarr name on online shopping accounts, including bestbuy.com and walmart.com. She used it for online video games. She uses it on a personal website that she has designed and created and uses at, which some of you will recognize, myspace.com. She uses Tereastarr for everything."

Between the IP address and the account name, Gabriel had strong evidence that Thomas-Rasset was the person making those 24 songs available for sharing on KaZaA. But because of KaZaA's peer-to-peer architecture, he had no way to prove that anyone—except the industry snoops themselves—had actually downloaded copies from her.

Gabriel argued that it didn't matter; making it available was infringement enough to justify a judgment. And in his closing instructions to the jury, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis agreed: If the jury thought Thomas-Rasset had made the songs available on KaZaA, she had committed copyright infringement.

With those instructions, the jury started its deliberations.

Thomas-Rasset and her lawyer went back to the hotel to eat some lunch. After just four hours, Toder's cell phone rang. The jury had reached a decision.

"At first we thought it was a good sign that they hadn't needed much deliberation," Thomas-Rasset says.

But back in the courtroom, that optimism turned to shock as the jury read its verdict: guilty. With no real guidelines, the jurors were free to assess statutory damages anywhere from $750 to $150,000 per song. For reasons never explained, they settled on the figure of $9,250 per song, for a total of $220,000.

Thomas-Rasset struggled to hold herself together as she left the courtroom. Fighting through the media scrum on the courthouse steps, she passed Gabriel, the lead attorney for the record industry, summing up the message his clients wanted to send with the trial: "This is what happens when you don't settle."

Alone in her car as reporters banged on the windows asking for her to comment, Thomas-Rasset took an inventory of what $220,000 in damages would mean.

"I was thinking, 'I'm gonna lose my house. I'm gonna lose my car. I'm gonna have to sell everything, and they're still going to garnish my wages to get all that from me. How am I going to provide for my kids?'"

Her face was a stoic mask as she nosed her car through the crowd, but once she made it to the open road, she let herself go.

"I just broke down," she says. "I couldn't stop sobbing. I felt like my whole life was gone."

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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

Hi cutie, Could you hit me up on--- RichFlirts.C'om---A dating club for successful, beautiful people.I am a smart&pretty gal. seeking a sweet man.pls Check out my username myshine,serious...

Sophia Green
Sophia Green

Hi cutie, Could you hit me up on--- RichFlirts.C'om---A dating club for successful, beautiful people.I am a smart&pretty gal. seeking a sweet man.pls Check out my username myshine,serious...

Sophia Green
Sophia Green

Hi cutie, Could you hit me up on--- RichFlirts.C'om---A dating club for successful, beautiful people.I am a smart&pretty gal. seeking a sweet man.pls Check out my username myshine,serious...

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.

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.

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?

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

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

 
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