By Jennifer LeClaire / Top Tech News. Updated October 08, 2007.
The verdict is in, history has been made, and the reaction is flooding in. The Recording Industry Association of America got the victory it was hoping for last week when a jury ruled against Jammie Thomas, a 30-year-old mother from Minnesota. But will the publicity backlash be worth the $220,000 in fines? And will college kids, perhaps the largest demographic of pirates, be deterred by a ruling against a mom found guilty of sharing music on an Indian reservation?
The plaintiffs, which included Virgin Records, Sony BMG, Capitol Records, Arista Records, Warner Bros., UMG Recordings, and Interscope Records, claimed Thomas distributed 1,702 copyrighted audio files on file-sharing network Kazaa in 2005. They asked for $3.9 million dollars, plus legal fees. Despite not getting that amount, the RIAA expressed approval of the outcome.
"When the evidence is clear, we will continue to bring legal actions against those individuals who have broken the law," the RIAA said in a statement. "This program is important to securing a level playing field for legal online music services and helping ensure that record companies are able to invest in new bands of tomorrow."
Was the Evidence Clear?
The RIAA maintained that the evidence was clear, and a jury apparently agreed with the plaintiff's attorneys. But was the evidence really conclusive? Richard Doherty, a digital rights management analyst at The Envisioneering Group, said he doesn't think so. More often that not, he argued, the U.S. legal system is based upon the notion that might makes right.
"We have something in the Constitution called the right to confront your accuser. Until the RIAA can produce people who can testify that they saw this individual share this music at a specific time, we have only robots accusing people of crimes," Doherty said. Experts testified that the Internet address used by "tereastarr," the name of the Kazaa user who infringed, belonged to Thomas.
Whether it's a traffic camera on the beltway or a computer saying that a defendant's network was involved in a crime, he added, the Thomas case is a strange twist on the jurisprudence of the past 230 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed. "You could ask the RIAA, 'Where does the money go from a fine from an individual? Has Priscilla Presley gotten a check? Has Yoko Ono gotten a check?'" Doherty said.
Measuring the Impact
What's more, Doherty said he doesn't think the verdict will deter the most likely infringers. A survey by Student Monitor from last year found that more than half of college students download music and movies illegally. According to market research firm NPD, college students alone accounted for more than 1.3 billion illegal music downloads in 2006.
Doherty said that if the expected effect is to scare away infringers of Thomas' age and social class, he doesn't think it's going to work unless Thomas is written into a sitcom or appears on Oprah or other daytime TV shows. If the effect is to scare young people, he added, the case needs to be highlighted in places such as the Weekly Reader.
"If this case was designed to show that the RIAA can beat down anyone who doesn't take their plea bargaining," he concluded, "then I guess it was very successful."
The RIAA was not immediately available for comment.