Thursday, June 18, 2009

RIAA: Be Careful What You Wish For

Various tweets from Minnesota confirm that a federal jury as just returned an astonishing verdict of $1,920,000 against Jammie Thomas for downloading 24 songs. That's $80,000 per song.

So I post this now - more in sadness than in anger.

Whether or not Ms. Thomas is the ideal post-card defendant for this type of case (she clearly isn't, since there were obvious credibility issues), and whether or not she had counsel capable of matching the RIAA team at critical stages, this is not a verdict that should please the RIAA.

If a single mother of two kids, age 32, can be whacked for almost $2 million for downloading 24 songs, and the RIAA actually believes that such a verdict should be enforced, can a law that allows this to happen be left on the books for long?

It's important to note that, in the USA, bankruptcy does not necessarily discharge a debt involving "willful" infringement. This was clearly such a "willful" case in the eyes of the jury and the amount of $80,000 per work is more than half of the maximum permitted under the statute for such infringement.

So - the RIAA has probably achieved more than it wished for here. It has the dubious honour of having achieved a damage award of $1,920,000 for downloading 24 songs - a fraction of what millions of American households have probably downloaded without authorization.

Given the civil wrongs caused by drunk drivers, incompetent and/or dishonest doctors and lawyers, polluting corporations, and countless others scenarios, the American justice system should take no pride in this verdict.

It could very well come back to haunt those who are now celebrating it. Maybe sooner rather than later in the form of a constitutional challenge to the damage award.


PS - here's the Ars Technica story.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure I have seen much celebrating from riaa. In fact, they seem to be asking to just resolve this once and for all.

    Similarly, I don't see any evidence that riaa says they expect to collect all or part of this.

    They had a jury trial and the jury did what it did. That's the way it works in the US.