The latest evidence of this self-destructive crusade came in a Minneapolis courtroom yesterday, where Brainerd resident Jammie Thomas-Rasset was in court for the third time for sharing 24 songs online.
After the first trial, in 2007, a jury told Thomas-Rasset she had to pay $222,000 in damages to record companies. She fought it, and a mistrial was eventually declared. After the second trial, in June of 2009, the penalty got even more ridiculous: the record companies won damages of $1.9 million.
The judge in the case ultimately decided that might be a bit steep, and reduced the penalty to $54,000. But that didn't sit well with the recording industry types, who want an award big enough to really scare the shit out of all the file-sharers out there. So yesterday they fought it out all over again in front of a new jury, and this time they got $1.5 million in damages.
More than a decade after Napster kicked off wide-spread sharing of music files, there's still a lot of disagreement over the ethics of downloading music without paying for it. Unrepentant downloaders compare their behavior to sharing mixtapes in the olden days, and say if the record industry's business model isn't well-adapted to the digital era, that's not their problem. More law-abiding types say you should pay for all the music in your collection, especially in the iTunes era when you can get virtually anything in a handy digital format for 99 cents a song.
This trial isn't really about that, though. It's about whether justice is being served if a mother of four who makes less than $40,000 a year can be held liable for $1.5 million dollars for putting two albums worth of songs on Kazaa, even when recording industry lawyers admit that the only people they can prove downloaded those songs are their own investigators.
What's especially ironic is the fact that Thomas-Rasset's case is basically a hold-over from a failed legal strategy the Recording Industry Association of America gave up on years ago. Back in the aughties, he industry sued thousands of accused downloaders, browbeating most of them into coughing up settlements. Thomas-Rasset was one of very few who refused to buckle, and made the industry actually prove their case at trial. But while the RIAA counted on terrifying headlines from cases like Thomas-Rasset's to scare other downloaders into settling, the strategy made the industry look like such bullies that they ultimately abandoned it.
Thomas-Rasset's judge has already shown he's no fan of outrageous damage awards in this case, so it remains to be seen whether she will be held liable for the full seven-figure amount. We'll let you know what happens.