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Friday, October 5, 2007

RIAA Wins File-Sharing Suit, Woman Fined $222,000

Haaaarrrr Matey, At Least Yer Not Walkin’ the Plank.

A jury in Duluth, Minn., found Thursday that a single mother of two children was liable for infringing copyright on 24 major-label recordings and awarded the record-industry $220,000 in damages. (And you thought DRM Free I-Tunes tracks are exorbitantly priced.)

The woman, Jammie Thomas, was the first accused infringer to take the Recording Industry Association of America to trial. The association has sued more than 20,000 consumers since 2003, warning them they could face fines of up to $150,000 per song for downloading copyrighted music off the Internet without paying for it. The industry blames such file-sharing for a precipitous sales decline in recent years. Most of the cases have been settled with the consumers paying fines of about $3000 to avoid further litigation. But Thomas insisted she did not download copyrighted songs and make them available for sharing in a folder on the Kazaa peer-to-peer network.

A key ruling during the trial undercut the defendant’s case. U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled that the prosecution didn’t have to prove that other Kazaa users downloaded copyrighted files from Thomas’ file. The recording industry merely had to demonstrate that she made them available for sharing.

A 12-person jury deliberated four hours after two days of testimony and ruled that Thomas must pay $9,250 for each of the 24 songs named in the lawsuit, including tracks by Aerosmith, AFI, Green Day, Journey and Guns N’ Roses.

With its wave of lawsuits, the recording industry has taken the unprecedented step of suing its own customers to stem file-sharing. The RIAA says the lawsuits have mitigated illegal sharing, even though music file-sharing is rising overall. The group says the number of households that have used file-sharing programs to download music has risen from 6.9 million monthly in April 2003, before the lawsuits began, to 7.8 million in March 2007. Perhaps more telling though, Big Champagne, a media measurement company, finds that more than 9 million consumers are sharing files at any given moment, up from 3.8 million when the lawsuits began in 2003.

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