RIAA sues for big bucks over illegal song downloads

By Jordan Buie

A Minnesota woman named Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 33, recently learned once again that big record companies mean business when they say not to steal or reproduce their content.

Thomas-Rasset was recently ordered by the courts to pay $1.5 million, $62,500 per song, when she was found guilty of downloading and sharing 24 songs on the file-sharing network Kazaa.

This case is the third round in a series of trials Thomas-Rasset has fought with the Recording Industry Association of America. She was ordered to pay nearly $2 million earlier this year, but Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ordered a new trial, saying he erred in his instructions to the jury and the amount was “monstrous and shocking.” He reduced the fee to $54,000, but Thomas-Rasset appealed the verdict.

The lawsuit went to trial in 2007, when jurors decided she willfully violated the copyrights on all songs, and was ordered to pay $9,250 per song or a total of $222,000. The RIAA has said it found Thomas-Rasset shared more than 1,700 songs on the Kazaa file-sharing site, but it sued for 24 of them.

The suit against Thomas-Rasset is one of many the RIAA has filed in the last decade, many of which have been settled outside of court for under $4,000. Before Thomas-Rasset’s case, most of the lawsuits were against major  offenders, who shared thousands of songs and cost the organization significant amounts  of money. This single mother of four children only downloaded 24 songs, but she made them available to other users whose downloads added up to 1,700.

Dr. Chris Blair, associate professor of communication arts and coordinator of digital media studies, said it is obvious the RIAA is trying to single out Thomas-Rasset for her actions, but he does not think they have gone about it the right way.

“I don’t think people believe the warnings these record companies are putting on their CDs, and they are making an example out of Thomas-Rasset,” Blair said. “I mean, does anybody believe that if they buy a DVD, make a copy of it and give it to a friend, the FBI is going to come through their door? Of course not. The RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America are becoming victims of their own hyperbole.”

Blair said he does not think these companies have acted wisely in their decisions to choose a single mother with four children as their example. He said iTunes, with songs usually priced at around 99 cents each, has done more to stop the illegal pirating of content than any of these lawsuits.

Dr. Dan Slater, assistant professor of business administration, who also teaches a master of business administration class on social responsibility, said he does not see the problem with these companies’ lawsuits because their content is being stolen.

Slater said the record companies are within their legal rights, and to view Thomas-Rasset as the victim stems from a larger problem in society.

“This is a case of analyzing the law in relation to social beliefs and ethics,” Slater said. “People are saying that because it was only a few bucks and because everyone is doing it this woman should be let off the hook, but in the end she still broke the law.”

Slater analyzed Thomas-Rasset’s situation from the biblical perspective of Mark 12:17, when Christ said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

“The Bible doesn’t say render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s unless it is a small amount,” Slater said. “There are no qualifications given, just the straight answer.”

The RIAA approached Thomas-Rasset earlier than this latest court case about settling out-of-court for $25,000 and an admission of her guilt, but she refused, saying she never shared the songs and the RIAA is trying to get money from her she needs to support her children. She said she will file bankruptcy if the RIAA wins the suit.

According to federal law, the RIAA is warranted $750-$30,000 for each song downloaded illegally, and if the courts deem it reasonable, charges can even add up to $150,000 per song.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.