The recording industry won a key fight Thursday against illegal music downloading when a federal jury found a Minnesota woman shared copyrighted music online and levied $222,000 in damages against her.
Jurors ordered Jammie Thomas, 30, to pay the six record companies that sued her $9,250 for each of 24 songs they focused on in the case. They had alleged she shared 1,702 songs online in violation of their copyrights.
Thomas and her attorney, Brian Toder, declined comment as they left the courthouse. Jurors also left without commenting.
"This does send a message, I hope, that downloading and distributing our recordings is not OK," said Richard Gabriel, the lead attorney for the music companies.
In the first such lawsuit to go to trial, six record companies accused Thomas of downloading the songs without permission and offering them online through a Kazaa file-sharing account. Thomas denied wrongdoing and testified that she didn't have a Kazaa account.
Record companies have filed some 26,000 lawsuits since 2003 over file-sharing, which has hurt sales because it allows people to get music for free instead of paying for recordings in stores. Many other defendants have settled by paying the companies a few thousand dollars.
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.
Cathy Sherman, RIAA President
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.
During the three-day trial, record companies presented evidence they said showed the copyrighted songs were offered by a Kazaa user under the name "tereastarr." Their witnesses, including officials from an Internet provider and a security firm, testified that the Internet address used by "tereastarr" belonged to Thomas.
Toder had argued at closing that record companies never proved that "Jammie Thomas, a human being, got on her keyboard and sent out these things."
"We don't know what happened," Toder told jurors. "All we know is that Jammie Thomas didn't do this."
Gabriel called that defense "misdirection, red herrings, smoke and mirrors."
He told jurors a verdict against Thomas would send a message to other illegal downloaders.
"I only ask that you consider that the need for deterrence here is great," he said.
Copyright law sets a damage range of $750 to $30,000 per infringement, or up to $150,000 if the violation was "willful." Jurors ruled that Thomas' infringement was willful, but awarded damages in a middle range.
Before the verdict, an official with an industry trade group said he was surprised it had taken so long for one of the industry's lawsuits against individual downloaders to come to trial.
Illegal downloads have "become business as usual, nobody really thinks about it," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which coordinates the lawsuits. "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."
Thomas' testimony was complicated by the fact that she had replaced her computer's hard drive after the sharing was alleged to have taken place - and later than she said in a deposition before trial.
The hard drive in question was not presented at trial by either party, though Thomas used her new one to show the jury how fast it copies songs from CDs. That was an effort to counter an industry witness's assertion that the songs on the old drive got their too fast to have come from CDs she owned - and therefore must have been downloaded illegally.
Record companies said Thomas was sent an instant message in February 2005, warning her that she was violating copyright law. Her hard drive was replaced the following month, not in 2004, as she said in the deposition.
The 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.