That Lady that Got Sued in Minnesota (Clearing up some lay-misconceptions about the Jammie Thomas trial)

23 June 2009

One of the neat things about being an Ipper is that people know you’re interested in intellectual property.  One of the sometimes neat things about this is that they try to talk to you about whatever their idea of intellectual property is.  It’s not neat because you have to try to figure out what someone’s talking about and do some straightening out.  It is neat because you get a sort of down on the ground insiders view to the misconceptions that are out there.

Today, Ip’s What’s Up would like to clear up a few misconceptions overheard about the Jammie Thomas/RIAA trial.

  • Jammie did not sue the music industry – the Recording Industry Association of America, an organization that represents a good chunk of the music industry in the United States sued Jammie.  The RIAA began a campaign of lawsuits in 2003 where they tracked down people who had shared files over the internet.  Both copying and distributing music without permission is against the copyright law.
  • The ‘deal’ Jammie refused was a standard settlement offer that some view as extortion – Jammie’s case was a big deal because it was the first one where the person accused of sharing songs refused the settlement deal.  The RIAA usually offers that the person accused of sharing music pay about $5,000 and the RIAA will drop the law suit.  Some experts, such as Ray Beckerman, feel that this offer is simply the RIAA scaring people and extorting money from them.  There are questions about how accurately the RIAA can identify people it things have shared music.  There is also concern over how much of a difference there is between the $5,000 settlement offer and the $24 value of the songs supposedly shared.  (In Jammie’s case, she was accused of sharing 24 songs.)  In short, the settlement was refused on the principle of the matter.
  • Jammie was not sued twice – although this was her second trial, she was not sued a second time.  The first trial was ruled a mistrial because of some problems with the instructions given to the jury.  The second trial sort of replaces the first one.

The widely publicized results of the second trial were worse for Jammie than the first trial.  In the first trial she was found to have committed copyright infringement and the RIAA was awarded $200,000 in damages.  This time, the RIAA was awarded almost $2 million.  There is talk in the copyright world of a third lawsuit; one that would challenge the constitutionality of the damages for copyright infringement.


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