Parents: you might think twice about complaining that your kids are spending too much money on music downloads. Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a 33-year-old single mother in Minnesota, was convicted this week of illegally sharing 24 songs on the website Kazaa. A federal jury – the third jury to hear her case – declared Thomas-Rasset must pay The Recording Industry Association of America 1.5 million dollars. That’s $62,500 per song!
“I can’t afford to pay any amount. It’s not a matter of won’t, it’s a matter of ‘I can’t,'” Thomas-Rasset said Thursday. “Any amount that I pay to them is money that I could use to feed my children. Any amount that I pay to them is money I could use to clothe my kids, and pay my mortgage so my kids have a place to sleep.”
Although I feel for Thomas-Rasset’s situation, the quote above isn’t entirely true. While I have no doubt that she can’t afford a million dollar fine, Thomas-Rasset has made it clear on more than one occasion that she doesn’t want to give the RIAA a dime. (I mean, why do you think she was illegally sharing music to begin with?) The single mother was the first person ever to be sued for illegally sharing music, and her saga with the RIAA began back in 2007, when she was ordered to pay $222,000.
According to the AP, “Thomas-Rasset shared more than 1,700 songs on the file-sharing site Kazaa,” but the RIAA only sued over 24 of them. RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said, “The association made several attempts to settle with Thomas-Rasset, at first for $5,000, but Thomas-Rasset refused,” adding, “Three juries have now spoken and each has sent a strong message that she needs to accept responsibility for her actions. I’d say, enough is enough.” (p.s. – So would Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer. Great song. Especially if you like hot pants and roller skates with your women’s lib.)
In a second trial, Thomas-Rasset was ordered to pay $1.92 million in damages, or $80,000 per copyright violation. The judge in the case called that figure “monstrous and shocking” and reduced the penalty to about $54,000. The AP reports that “The RIAA rejected the reduced penalty for legal reasons. But the industry group said it would settle for $25,000, with the money going to a charity for struggling musicians.” Thomas-Rasset again refused.
Though a 1.5 million dollar settlement sounds astronomical, federal laws allow a jury to charge “as much as $150,000 per track if it finds the infringements were willful.” Thomas-Rasset maintains her innocence, saying she never even used the website Kazaa, and her attorney says he will “submit arguments that the statutes allowing for such hefty damages in these cases are unconstitutional.” He feels Thomas-Rasset should pay no more than $18,000, though stresses that the actual damages she caused total $24, “the amount Thomas-Rasset would have paid if she bought each song for $1 off iTunes.”
Thomas-Rasset is clearly looking to get something for nothing, because she says even if she’s ordered to pay the 1.5 million, she’ll “probably file for bankruptcy and write off the damages, rather than pay herself.”
What kind of message is Thomas-Rasset sending her children? Not that it’s good to have convictions and stick to them, but that it’s okay to steal and to lie. People make mistakes, certainly, and file-sharing was once quite commonplace. I don’t so much fault Thomas-Rasset for getting swept up in the craze before it was generally understood that file-sharing does negatively impact the artists behind the projects being distributed, but I can’t believe she didn’t settle out of court for $5000 – or even ask to pay $1700, since it seems obvious that the RIAA was willing to bargain with her.
One thing is for sure: in light of this case, this might be a good time to talk to your kids about the importance of buying music through legitimate channels. When it comes to file-sharing, making a playlist or mix for just one friend is technically illegal, though the RIAA has never sued anyone for doing so. Even though file-sharing has been available for over a decade (Napster was founded in 1999), the legal system and music industry haven’t been able to keep up with and/or regulate the use of new technology in a clear and concise way. This is all so much more complicated than the problems we faced as kids, ie, hoping the DJ didn’t talk over the beginning or cut the end of your favorite song when you were taping it off the radio…