Jammie Thomas-Rasset: The download martyr

RIAA fines Brainerd woman $220,000 for 24 songs

   

THE CASE LOOKED like a home run for the recording industry. The press couldn't resist the story, and soon the word was out: Tangle with the recording industry, and you could find yourself on the hook for nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

"That verdict sent a chill," says Jason Schultz, a law professor who works on copyright issues. "Whatever it did to people's actual downloading habits, it made settling look much more attractive than actually challenging the industry in court."

Jammie Thomas-Rasset lives with her husband, Chad, and their children in Brainerd
Steve Kohls
Jammie Thomas-Rasset lives with her husband, Chad, and their children in Brainerd

The case also set an important legal precedent that would make future cases even easier for the record industry: From here on out, they wouldn't have to prove anyone downloaded the songs someone was sharing—more or less impossible with the new generation of peer-to-peer networks—just that it was possible someone could have.

But the victory wouldn't last.

In September 2008, Judge Davis changed his mind about the "making available" argument and threw the verdict out, on the grounds that the instructions he had given to the jury were no good. If the record companies wanted anything from Thomas-Rasset, they were going to have to sue her all over again.

Meanwhile, the RIAA was starting to wonder whether suing music fans was really the best strategy.

"Whatever legal victory they were scoring, the way it played in public looked really terrible," says Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "The record industry just looked like bullies."

It wasn't just the Thomas-Rasset case. By this time the RIAA had sent letters to more than 30,000 people. Some of them were 12-year-old girls. Some of them were paralyzed stroke victims on disability. Some of them were even dead.

By picking on Davids, the record companies were casting themselves as Goliath.

"It was a public relations disaster," Jeschke says.

In December of 2008, the RIAA announced it would no longer sue individual up-loaders. Instead, the association vowed to work with colleges and internet providers to create a system of warnings and punishments.

But there was still the matter of the Thomas-Rasset case. In May 2009, the RIAA met Thomas-Rasset for a court-ordered settlement conference, but neither side was willing to back down. The case would have to be tried all over again.

This was too much for Thomas-Rasset's lawyer, Brian Toder. After paying the initial retainer fee, Toder's client hadn't gotten close to keeping up with her legal bills. She was making tiny payments to Toder when she was able, but by this time his bill was up to $130,000. Now his client was once again stubbornly refusing to settle, and there was going to be a whole new trial. It seemed to him that this case could go on forever.

"The whole thing was just unsustainable," Toder says. "It couldn't go on."

   

FORTUNATELY FOR THOMAS-RASSET an unlikely pair of legal rescuers presented themselves just in the nick of time.

Joe Sibley and Kiwi Camara had launched their practice in Houston only a few months before, and they made a strange pair. Sibley's a former Army Ranger from east Texas; Camara is a child prodigy from Hawaii who finished college at age 16 before becoming the youngest person ever to graduate from Harvard Law School at age 19.

It was their first day at Harvard Law when Camara and Sibley met, and despite the differences in their backgrounds, they had one thing in common: On a campus with a reputation for a liberal bent, the two were among the only vocal conservatives.

Both did well at Harvard, but Camara's academic career was marred by an incident that made national headlines when it was discovered that in course notes he was sharing online he referred to African-Americans as "nigs."

So what were two conservative lawyers in Texas doing offering their free services to an accused Native American copyright infringer in Minnesota?

"We were just starting out," Sibley says. "And it's safe to say that the publicity we've gotten for this case has been worth far more than we ever could have gotten paid for this."

Camara and Sibley had hardly any time to prepare the case, but they jumped right in. They filed a pretrial motion to get the MediaSentry evidence thrown out, arguing that the investigators had broken wiretapping laws when they snooped on the KaZaA account.

The new judge, Raymond Erikson, didn't buy it.

So, next the team tried a riskier gambit: If they couldn't convince a jury that some stranger had hijacked their client's digital identity, they'd raise the possibility that someone closer to her did it.

Thomas-Rasset was the only witness called in her defense. When Sibley asked her how the songs came to be shared on a KaZaA account apparently running on her computer with her log-in, she suggested that it could have been her ex-boyfriend, or perhaps one of her sons, who were 10 and 8 at the time. All of them knew her log-in, Thomas-Rasset said. Besides, a lot of the music that KaZaA account was sharing she doesn't even like. The metal and industrial stuff—Ministry, Morbid Angel, Covenant—that was more her ex-boyfriend's kind of music.

On cross-examination, the record-industry lawyer questioned why Thomas-Rasset had never implicated her ex-boyfriend or her kids before. The RIAA also proved that just after she was notified of the pending lawsuit, she swapped out her hard drive at Best Buy, then lied under oath when she told the court that the drive being examined was the one in her computer at the time of the alleged offense.

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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.

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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