Music File-Sharing Case Gets Second Chance

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Minneapolis—A Minnesota woman is getting a second day in court, this time accompanied by some aggressive new lawyers, after having been found guilty of copyright violation by sharing music on the file-sharing network Kazaa.

Jammie Thomas, 32, is the only person accused of illegal file sharing to go to court for the crime. Nearly two years after losing her initial trial, at which time she was ordered to pay $222,000 in damages for the 24 songs she offered on the file-sharing service, she has been granted a retrial.

Thomas is unusual in that she has fought her case in court. Most defendants accused by the recording industry – and there have been more than 30,000 copyright lawsuits in recent years, since file-sharing became widespread and popular among Internet users – simply chose to pay their fines, since the fines were still lower than the legal costs of defending themselves. The settlements, according to Thomas new attorney, K.A.D. Camara, have added up to more than $100 million.

There have been several memorable cases in which the industry has backed down, dropping lawsuits against unlikely illegal downloaders. In 2007, an elderly Texas grandmother named Rhonda Crain was charged with downloading music, but denied the charges. The music companies decided not to sue, but instead settled the case in exchange for Crain’s promise to never download any music without having purchased it.

Tanya Anderson, a disabled single mother, also had similar charges dropped against her after it was revealed the industry representatives had threatened to question Anderson’s 10-year-old daughter if a fine was not paid.

Because of these and other cases, the issue of file sharing has become a bit of a public relations conundrum for the music industry. While at the same time trying to protect their profits, the companies also risk alienating the fan base of their recording artists. In December 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America declared that instead of filing lawsuits like the one against Thomas, they will work with Internet service providers to restrict the access of those who attempt to share files illegally. Cases that have been already filed will proceed, however.

At issue in the retrial is whether or not the industry’s lawyers can prove that they own the copyrights on the 24 songs that Thomas allegedly shared. Originally the prosecution had provided uncertified copies of the copyrights, but now a federal judge has declared that certified copies are necessary, and that the prosecution has the burden of proof of copyright in this case.

 

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