October 7, 2007
Minnesota mother becomes RIAA’s first victim.
First blood is drawn. A federal jury sided with the RIAA and found single mother Jammie Thomas liable of “piracy” to the tune of $222K US (report from Wired). Mrs. Thomas could have been tagged with as much as $3.6M or as little as $18K, all for only 24 of the 1700 files she was reportedly sharing via Kazza (here’s the “playlist” if you’re curious).
Jammie Thomas is one of some 20,000 individuals the RIAA has sued in the past few years for “piracy.” So far, most have settled out of court and some were dismissed outright, but Jammie decided to challenge the zealot organization and became the first to actually go to trial. The jury’s decision now gives the RIAA, and possibly the MPAA, “ammo” to persecute… I mean, pursue other individual file sharers:
“This is what can happen if you don’t settle,” RIAA attorney Richard Gabriel told reporters outside the courthouse. “I think we have sent a message we are willing to go to trial.”
On the positive side, the RIAA can’t equate file sharing to hacking. Or can they?…
We’re the RIAA. We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence, bitch! U.S. District Judge Michael Davis presided over the case and was asked by jurors about the minimum amount Mrs. Thomas could be liable for a “willful” file sharing incident, since their instruction form left that information off. There were other signs that the case would go the RIAA’s way:
In proving liability, the industry did not have to demonstrate that the defendant’s computer had a file-sharing program installed at the time that they inspected her hard drive. And the RIAA did not have to show that the defendant was at the keyboard when RIAA investigators accessed Thomas’ share folder.
Also, the judge in the case ruled that jurors may find copyright infringement liability against somebody solely for sharing files on the internet. The RIAA did not have to prove that others downloaded the files.
In other words, all the RIAA had to show was that the files being shared were on her computer when they traced and hacked into it. No user presence or knowledge that file sharing was going on with his/her system was needed to be proven.
Another version of the truth. Jammie Thomas chose to challenge the RIAA in court because “I wasn’t going to pay for something I didn’t do.” She blames hackers for the piracy:
“I want people to know that they are being sued based on hacked, spoofed computers. They should still fight back in these cases.”
Given the current state of hacking technology, her claim may not be far off. After all, if the US government can hack systems to plant spyware, who knows what black-hats… or the RIAA… can plant on your system without your knowledge. For all we know, the RIAA themselves may have planted the music files on her computer just to make someone an example of their legal hijacking capabilities (Just a conspiracy theory… for now). Also consider that the RIAA’s movie-protection-racket clone the MPAA allegedly hired a hacker to go after their adversaries.
Unfortunately, the jury didn’t buy it… maybe because they were bought by the RIAA (Another conspiracy theory). Also (race card alert), Mrs. Thomas is a single mother of two and a Native American woman who works as an administrator at a local tribe. Twist that around anyway you see fit.
Payback is going to be a bitch. While some see the Minnesota ruling a victory for corporate music and the Record Industry Gestapo, the RIAA may have just painted a big bullseye on their backs. Last month’s leak of memos from anti-P2P allies MediaDefender may only be the tip of a huge iceberg that will sink the titanic industry group and its members, as the record labels and the RIAA itself will now be directly targeted for future hacks.
Additionally, suing your potential customer base makes for bad public relations. That only fuels the anti-corporate boycott-fires that are already simmering in people who already see the RIAA as corporate law Neanderthals; Cavemen in suits with nothing better to do than hit people over the head with lawsuits. Does the RIAA realize how much taxpayer money is wasted on such trials, where it could have been better spent on schools and infrastructure? Not only that, this ruling will only cause more piracy, not less, as a show of contempt for the industry and group and the legal system they’ve corrupted.
Speaking of payback, one question that the RIAA may never answer is: How much of that $222K US will the infringed artists get?
Most likely answer: JACK SHIT. That money will only go right into the pockets of the industry execs and the shysters, for what they call “legal fees,” to fuel the anti-file-sharing lawsuit machinery. Take Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor’s answer to Australia’s Herald Sun when they asked why his group’s latest album, Year Zero, cost more than other albums:
Herald Sun: Where does that extra $10 on your album go?
Trent: That money’s not going into my pocket, I can promise you that. It’s just these guys who have f—ed themselves out of a job essentially, that now take it out on ripping off the public. I’ve got a battle where I’m trying to put out quality material that matters and I’ve got fans that feel it’s their right to steal it and I’ve got a company that’s so bureaucratic and clumsy and ignorant and behind the times they don’t know what to do, so they rip the people off.
Given the music industry’s corporate fuck-everyone-over-to-make-a-profit mentality, and the RIAA’s cluelessnes during the Year Zero ARG campaign, there’s little wonder why Trent finally let loose against the industry during a tour stop in Australia:
Don’t worry, Trent. The RIAA has just given us more than enough reason to steal.
UPDATE (08-Oct-2007): Word from Wired now says Jammie Thomas will appeal the ruling on the grounds of faulty jury instructions:
Specifically, it’s Jury Instruction No. 15, here in full: “The act of making copyrighted sound recordings available for electronic distribution on a peer-to-peer network, without license from the copyright owners, violates the copyright owners’ exclusive right of distribution, regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown.”
In short, she’s appealing the concept that it was too easy for jurors to find that she infringed. Jurors were instructed to find liability if they found she had an open Kazaa share-file folder with music in it available to others, regardless of whether any downloading occurred.
Normally in the US Justice system, the plaintiff (the RIAA in this case) must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant (Mrs. Thomas) committed the crime, usually through lab analyzes of physical evidence and eyewitness testimonies, or a confession from the defendant. Here, it seems only an intent is present… and even that seems questionable given RIAA tactics and history. The instruction sounds like the jury can only find Mrs. Thomas guilty.
Example: Someone wants to kill president Bush (doesn’t everyone?). That person also owns a gun. Is that person automatically guilty of attempted murder of a president? That connection is just stupid; That person would actually need to take a shot at Duh’bya with the gun, and then the government would need to bring that person to trial and prove he/she did shoot.
This sounds like it’s going to go all the way to the US Supreme Court, where the instruction… and the RIAA… will face the ultimate equalizer of justice: The Constitution. By the way things are shaping up, Mrs. Thomas should be vindicated. Then again, stranger things have happened before.