Record Companies Win Music Sharing Trial
Friday, October 5, 2007; 2:31 AM
DULUTH, Minn. -- The recording industry hopes $222,000 will be enough to dissuade music lovers from downloading songs from the Internet without paying for them. That's the amount a federal jury ordered a Minnesota woman to pay for sharing copyrighted music online.
"This does send a message, I hope, that downloading and distributing our recordings is not OK," Richard Gabriel, the lead attorney for the music companies that sued the woman, said Thursday after the three-day civil trial in this city on the shore of Lake Superior.
In closing arguments he had told the jury, "I only ask that you consider that the need for deterrence here is great."
Jammie Thomas, 30, a single mother from Brainerd, was ordered to pay the six record companies that sued her $9,250 for each of 24 songs they focused on in the case. They had alleged she shared 1,702 songs in all.
It was the first time one of the industry's lawsuits against individual downloaders had gone to trial. Many other defendants have settled by paying the companies a few thousand dollars, but Thomas decided she would take them on and maintained she had done nothing wrong.
"She was in tears. She's devastated," Thomas' attorney, Brian Toder, told The Associated Press. "This is a girl that lives from paycheck to paycheck, and now all of a sudden she could get a quarter of her paycheck garnished for the rest of her life."
Toder said the plaintiff's attorney fees are automatically awarded in such judgments under copyright law, meaning Thomas could actually owe as much as a half-million dollars. However, he said he suspects the record companies "will probably be people we can deal with."
Gabriel said no decision had yet been made about what the record companies would do, if anything, to pursue collecting the money from Thomas.
The record companies accused Thomas of downloading the songs without permission and offering them online through a Kazaa file-sharing account. Thomas denied wrongdoing and testified that she didn't have a Kazaa account.
Since 2003, record companies have filed some 26,000 lawsuits over file-sharing, which has hurt sales because it allows people to get music for free instead of paying for recordings in stores.
During the trial, the record companies presented evidence they said showed the copyrighted songs were offered by a Kazaa user under the name "tereastarr." Their witnesses, including officials from an Internet provider and a security firm, testified that the Internet address used by "tereastarr" belonged to Thomas.
Toder said in his closing argument that the companies never proved "Jammie Thomas, a human being, got on her keyboard and sent out these things."