Illegal Downloading: Minnesota Woman Owes 222K For Copyright Infringement, Says Judge


Getting caught for illegally downloading music is like a technological boogeyman. You know it's out there in theory, but just like the "super snake" down in Florida, you hope that you never have to deal or meet it. I have only heard whispered stories about someone who had a cousin who was dating this guy whose roommate's younger brother had gotten caught downloading free music. However, this is now real (verifiable).

A Minnesota woman, Jammie Thomas-Rasset, accused of sharing songs online, owes record companies $222,000 for willful copyright violations, a federal appeals court said Tuesday, reversing a lower court's ruling in a long-running lawsuit over music downloading.

Okay this sounds a little excessive. But is it? This practice is against the law. It hurts the musicians, it hurts the industry, and hurts the music employees. If she was a car jacker you wouldn't even hesitate in your judgement. But music downloading has become an accepted practice. Just like buying bootleg DVDs off a street vendor, you know it's illegal but everyone does it.

In all honesty, while this sum seems excessive, it could (should) have been much higher. The industry presented evidence that Thomas-Rasset made available over 1,700 songs to other computer uses via the file sharing service Kazaa, though the lawsuit targeted only 24 songs. That's less than 1.5% of the material she was illegally giving away. To continue with the car jacking analogy, the cops catch you and then only charge you for stealing the hubcaps (or whatever 2% of a car is). 200K is a lot of money but it could have been a lot worse.

This case was one of only two lawsuits to go to trial out of more than 30,000 filed by the recording industry in a drive to stop the unauthorized free downloading of copyrighted music, which the industry says has cut deeply into its revenues. The vast majority settled for about $3,500 apiece.

However, Thomas-Rasset's attorney Kiwi Camera confirmed they'll ask the Supreme Court to hear the case, saying the $222,000 award is punitive. In fairness, the industry has previously offered to settle for $25,000 and donate the money to a musician's charity. Camera said they wouldn't accept such an offer even if were made again.

This case will now be added to the boogeyman lore of music piracy. When people are hovering over that link to download the music or looking at their Kazaa account, maybe they will now think twice. Thomas-Rasset's $222,000 and Joel Tenebaum's $675,000 fines are terrifying. As a society have we moved towards accepting and normalizing theft? Do we need these wake up calls to bring us back to the side of lawfulness? All I know is that I am clinging to my Spotify account and not worrying about any future lawsuits.