Music Download Trial Starts in Minn.

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 2, 2007; 3:54 PM

DULUTH, Minn. -- The nation's largest record companies took their fight against illegal downloads to court for the first time Tuesday, targeting a Minnesota woman they say improperly shared nearly 2,000 songs online.

Jennifer Pariser, head of litigation and antipiracy at Sony BMG, portrayed the federal copyright trial as a fight for survival.

"It is imperative for Sony BMG to combat this problem," Pariser, lead attorney for a coalition of music companies, said in her opening statement in the civil trial. "If we don't, we have no business anymore."

Jammie Thomas, a 30-year-old mother of two from Brainerd, Minn., told reporters outside the courtroom that she was "innocent."

Thomas said that instead of paying a settlement to the record companies she had spent the same amount on her attorney's retainer.

"I refuse to be bullied," she said.

The trial was expected to last just a few days.

Record companies including Capitol Records Inc. and Warner Bros. Records Inc. as well as Sony BMG, accuse Thomas of making 1,702 songs available on her Kazaa file-sharing account in 2005 without permission. In court, they will try to prove Thomas shared 25 specific songs in violation of copyrights the companies hold.

Thomas's computer hard drive will be a key to the case. She says she replaced it after she had some computer problems in 2005. The record companies say she was trying to cover her tracks after they sent her messages saying she was illegally distributing their files.

Thomas, who works for the Department of Natural Resources of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, is at risk for a judgment of more than $1.2 million. The recording association is seeking damages set under federal law, of $750 to $30,000 for each copyright violation.

A recording industry group says record companies have brought more than 26,000 actions against people for downloads that violated copyrights, with most of the defendants settling by paying a few thousand dollars.

The record companies claim that on Feb. 21, 2005, online investigators at SafeNet Inc., found 1,702 files shared under what they said was a Kazaa account being used by Thomas. The songs included Swedish death metal band Opeth, German industrial group VNV Nation and American rock band Chevelle.

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