Minnesota: Regardless of how the first trial of a person accused of illegally sharing music online turns out, the record industry plans to keep suing listeners for a while.
“We think we’re in for a long haul in terms of establishing that music has value, that music is property, and that property has to be respected,” said Cary Sherman, President of the Recording Industry Association of America, which coordinates the lawsuits.
Some 26,000 lawsuits have been filed starting in 2003, but the case against Jammie Thomas, a mother of two from Brainerd, is the first to go to trial. Many other defendants settled by paying the record companies a few thousand dollars.
Sherman said he was surprised it took this long for one of them to go to trial. After four years, he said, “it’s become business as usual, nobody really thinks about it. This case has put it back in the news. Win or lose, people will understand that we are out there trying to protect our rights.”
Six major record companies accuse Thomas, 30, of sharing 1,702 songs online in violation of the companies’ copyrights. The record companies claim they found the songs on a Kazaa file-sharing account they later linked to her.
After two days of testimony from 11 witnesses, the defense rested without calling anyone to the stand, and closing arguments in the civil trial.
US District Judge Michael Davis said he would decide then whether record companies would have to prove the songs were actually transferred to any other users for jurors to find Thomas liable.
Thomas testified she did not do it, though she acknowledged giving conflicting dates for the replacement of her computer hard drive. Record company attorney Richard Gabriel suggested she replaced the hard drive to cover her tracks.
She testified under questioning from Gabriel that while pursuing a college degree in marketing, she did a case study on the original Napster file-sharing program and concluded that it was not illegal. A judge ruled in 2001 that it was.
She acknowledged she listened to or owned CDs released by more than 60 of the artists whose music was in the Kazaa file-sharing folder at the heart of the case. Thomas denied the folder was hers.
Earlier in the day, Thomas set up her computer in court to show the jury how quickly CDs could be copied onto it. The demonstration was aimed at countering testimony by an expert who testified that the songs on one of Thomas’ computer drives were created just 15 seconds apart, suggesting piracy. But each song Thomas copied in court over Gabriel’s objection took less than 10 seconds to land on the computer.
Jacobson said the comparison might not be valid because the version of Windows Media Player that Thomas used to copy, or “rip,” the CDs in court was different from what was available in February 2005, when the files in contention landed on her hard drive.
Record companies involved in the lawsuit are Sony BMG, Arista Records LLC, Interscope Records, UMG Recordings Inc., Capitol Records Inc. and Warner Bros. Records Inc.
They have not specified how much they are seeking in damages. But RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said they would be asking for damages on the 24 songs that the trial is focused on, not the 1,702 that were described in the lawsuit.
Copyright law allows damages of $750 to $30,000 per infringement, or up to $150,000 if the violation was “willful.” That means Thomas could face a judgment of anywhere from $18,000 to $3.6 million for the 24 songs.