RIAA Witness Surprised By File-Sharing Fine

The RIAA has been prosecuting an aggressive campaign against illegal music downloaders, even as P2P networks show little sign of declining

One of the Recording Industry Association of America’s primary witnesses in its successful case against a Minnesota woman accused of illegally downloading music, a lawyer with Sony, reportedly said he was “shocked” at the size of the fine involved in the verdict handed down in the case.

On 18 June, a Minnesota federal court ruled that Jammie Thomas-Rasset was guilty of copyright violation for downloading 24 songs off the Kazaa file-sharing network, fining her $1.92 million (£1.16m) —or $80,000 per song.

“We were shocked. I suspected we were going to win, but I really thought they would come in with a lower number,” Gary Wade Leak informed an audience at a weekend alumni event at Columbia University, as reported by Ars Technica.

The Associated Press quoted a post-trial Thomas-Rasset as saying, “There’s no way they’re ever going to get that … I’m a mom, limited means, so I’m not going to worry about it now.” Perhaps with that fact in mind, the RIAA was reportedly willing to settle for the far lesser amount of $3,000 to $5,000.

This was actually Thomas-Rasset’s second trial; the first, in 2007, ended with the judge declaring a mistrial after she had been fined $222,000 (£134,000), which translates to $9,250 for each of the 24 downloaded songs.

The RIAA has launched over 35,000 cases against people accused of illegal music downloads, with the substantial bulk of them settled out of court, often for comparatively miniscule amounts of money. Despite the ubiquity of peer-to-peer networks, the RIAA has taken something of a scorched-earth approach to digital piracy, sending dozens of letters to individuals it suspects of downloading content.

Those attempts have occasionally led to public-relations backfires, as in the 2005 suit that the RIAA leveled in U.S. District Court against 83-year-old Gertrude Walton for downloading music under the online handle “smittenedkitten.” The only problem was that Walton had died the previous December. The RIAA dropped the suit.

However, the organisation still seems determined to prosecute Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston student accused of illegally downloading music who’s being defended by Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson in the upcoming trial.