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Illegally downloading music

Sir Tokyo Sexwale

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The first person to be successfully sued for illegal filesharing in the US has been ordered to pay a fine of nearly $2m (£1.22m) after a retrial. A court awarded the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) the increased amount of $1.92m after Jammie Thomas-Rasset was found guilty of wilfully violating the copyright of 24 songs.


Thomas-Rasset was originally found guilty of copyright infringement in 2007 and was ordered to pay a fine of $222,000. She was one of around 30,000 individuals to be fined by the RIAA, typically for amounts between $3,000 – $10,000, for illegal filesharing using peer-to-peer sites such as Kazaa, used by Thomas-Rasset. A new trial was ordered after the judge in her original case said he had "erred in giving the jury instruction". Unfortunately for Thomas-Rasset, a new jury decided her crime warranted a much larger punishment, to the tune of $80,000 per song.


The 32-year-old single mother told reporters outside a Minneapolis court that the verdict was "kind of ridiculous" and "there's no way they're ever going to get that".


But it's not just Thomas-Rasset who will be upset over the latest verdict. Joel Tenebaum, a 25-year-old student from Boston, is facing a similar trial in the coming month in which the RIAA are seeking damages of $1m.


The case began with a letter Tenebaum received in 2003, when he was in his late teens, asking for damages of $5,250 for seven illegally downloaded songs, also via Kazaa. Tenebaum replied to the industry body to say he could not afford that amount, but offered to pay them $500. The RIAA declined and Tenebaum heard nothing about the matter for several years, during which time he finished high school and went to college in Boston.


Meanwhile, the RIAA continued its legal assault on individuals accused of illegal filesharing. Its scattergun methods resulted in official letters being sent to a 12-year-old girl and a deceased woman, and the method has since been dropped by the RIAA in favour of working with internet service providers to combat illegal filesharing. This is too late for Tenebaum, however, because in 2007 the case reared its head again, and this time the RIAA were seeking damages of $150,000 per song.


A full trial has been delayed several times while Tenebaum, who enlisted the help of Harvard legal professor Charles Nesson and his students, sought the unusual measure of having the trial streamed over the internet. The webcast was vetoed by the judge, but Tenebaum continues to build support for his case via his blog, Twitter and the website joelfightsback.com.


Tenebaum's will be the second case of its kind to reach a federal court in the US, following that of Thomas-Rasset. Considering her original fine of $220,000, Tenebaum was reasonably sure that a jury would not find in favour of such a high amount as $1m. Now he must convince the jury that the context of his case is different, because he was young when he downloaded those songs and because attitudes to filesharing were different then.


Writing on Tenebaum's website, a supporter highlights the crux of the argument. "If it were today, I would not say that Joel's downloading is fair, but this was seven years ago, before iTunes or other legitimate purposes of obtaining music digitally," writes Yvonne Wohn.


"It was a short timeframe, a transitional, chaotic period when the internet made things go out of control, not just economically but culturally too. The RIAA says that Joel stole music, but it wasn't really like that. Rather, it was like a period when the bank vaults were suddenly flung open; someone went in, took the money, and strew it all over the street. Could you really blame someone for picking up a couple bucks?"


Tenebaum's trial is due to begin on 20 July. Thomas-Rasset and her legal team have yet to decide whether to appeal against her $2m fine.






80k per song. FFS

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