Four years after it began, the Recording Industry Association of America?s (RIAA) campaign to intimidate music fans by randomly singling out individuals for lawsuits has, for the first time, made it to a jury trial. Despite the RIAA's previous claim that defendants have no right to a jury trial, Jammie Thomas had her day in court in front of a jury sworn to examine the evidence in a fair, impartial manner. The verdict is now in: Thomas was found guilty, and will be liable for $220,000 in penalties ? $9250 per song.
But Capitol Records v. Thomas is the exception that proves the rule: 99.9% of those who are sued by the recording industry for file sharing will never get a day in court. Facing well-heeled recording industry lawyers, most targets of the music industry?s wrath conclude that it?s cheaper to settle than to fight. That?s why the RIAA campaign has resulted in little more than out-of-court settlements and default judgments (along with a few cases dismissed for lack of evidence and, in the case of the wrongly accused Tanya Anderson, a rare court ordering the RIAA to pay her legal fees).
In the Duluth, MN court where the case was heard, some interesting facts have emerged, among them Sony-BMG?s head of litigation Jennifer Pariser suggestion under questioning that the lawsuits are losing money for the RIAA. Whether she?s right or not ? we?ve long suspected that these lawsuits are at least breaking even, and the RIAA refuses to say ? millions of dollars have been spent on these suits, and millions have been paid to the RIAA, with no sign that a penny of that money has gone into the pockets of artists.
Also revealing was Pariser?s assertion that ripping CDs for personal use was stealing. ?When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself,? she said, ?I suppose we can say he stole a song, ? adding that making a single copy is just "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy.?? That?s an ironic statement coming from an employee of a company that has ?Sony? in its name. After all, Sony?s Betamax VCR was at the center of the 1984 case that established that individuals have a right of to make copies of TV programs for personal use.
But despite today's verdict, tens of millions of Americans will continue sharing billions of songs, just as they have since Napster let the P2P genie out of the bottle nearly 8 years ago. Every lawsuit makes the recording industry look more and more like King Canute, vainly trying to hold back the tide. As for EFF, we continue to believe there is a better way forward.