DULUTH, Minn. - The recording industry hopes $222,000 will be enough to dissuade music lovers from downloading songs from the Internet without paying for them. That's the amount a federal jury ordered a Minnesota woman to pay for sharing copyrighted music online.
This does send a message, I hope, that downloading and distributing our recordings is not OK," Richard Gabriel, the lead attorney for the music companies that sued the woman, said Thursday after the three-day civil trial in this city on the shore of Lake Superior.
In closing arguments he had told the jury, "I only ask that you consider that the need for deterrence here is great."
Jammie Thomas, 30, a single mother from Brainerd, was ordered to pay the six record companies that sued her $9,250 for each of 24 songs they focused on in the case. They had alleged she shared 1,702 songs in all.
It was the first time one of the industry's lawsuits against individual downloaders had gone to trial. Many other defendants have settled by paying the companies a few thousand dollars, but Thomas decided she would take them on and maintained she had done nothing wrong.
"She was in tears. She's devastated," Thomas' attorney, Brian Toder, told The Associated Press. "This is a girl that lives from paycheck to paycheck, and now all of a sudden she could get a quarter of her paycheck garnished for the rest of her life."
Toder said the plaintiff's attorney fees are automatically awarded in such judgments under copyright law, meaning Thomas could actually owe as much as a half-million dollars. However, he said he suspects the record companies "will probably be people we can deal with."
Gabriel said no decision had yet been made about what the record companies would do, if anything, to pursue collecting the money from Thomas.
The record companies accused Thomas of downloading the songs without permission and offering them online through a Kazaa file-sharing account. Thomas denied wrongdoing and testified that she didn't have a Kazaa account.
Since 2003, record companies have filed some 26,000 lawsuits over file-sharing, which has hurt sales because it allows people to get music for free instead of paying for recordings in stores.
During the trial, the record companies presented evidence they said showed the copyrighted songs were offered by a Kazaa user under the name "tereastarr." Their witnesses, including officials from an Internet provider and a security firm, testified that the Internet address used by "tereastarr" belonged to Thomas.
Toder said in his closing argument that the companies never proved "Jammie Thomas, a human being, got on her keyboard and sent out these things."
"We don't know what happened," Toder told jurors. "All we know is that Jammie Thomas didn't do this."
Copyright law sets a damage range of $750 to $30,000 per infringement, or up to $150,000 if the violation was "willful." Jurors ruled that Thomas' infringement was willful but awarded damages in a middle range; Gabriel said they did not explain the amount to attorneys afterward. Jurors left the courthouse without commenting.
Before the verdict, an official with an industry trade group said he was surprised it had taken so long for one of the industry's lawsuits against individual downloaders to come to trial.
Illegal downloads have "become business as usual. Nobody really thinks about it," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which coordinates the lawsuits. "This case has put it back in the news. Win or lose, people will understand that we are out there trying to protect our rights."
Thomas' testimony was complicated by the fact that she had replaced her computer's hard drive after the sharing was alleged to have taken place - and later than she said in a deposition before trial.
The hard drive in question was not presented at trial by either party.
The record companies said Thomas was sent an instant message in February 2005 warning her that she was violating copyright law. Her hard drive was replaced the following month, not in 2004 as she said in the deposition.
"I don't think the jury believed my client regarding the events concerning the replacement of the hard drive," Toder said.
The record companies involved in the lawsuit are Sony BMG, Arista Records LLC, Interscope Records, UMG Recordings Inc., Capitol Records Inc. and Warner Bros. Records Inc.