Musicians Pan File-Sharing Verdict
Last week, a jury found Thomas-Rasset liable for copyright infringement and ordered her to pay $80,000 for each of 24 tracks shared on Kazaa. Since the verdict was returned, it has spurred some very public condemnation of the Recording Industry Association of America -- and not just by copyright reform advocates.
Richard Marx, one of the musicians whose tracks Thomas-Rasset shared, said Wednesday that he was "ashamed" to be connected with the case. "It seems to me, especially in these extremely volatile economic times, that holding Ms. Thomas-Rasset accountable for the continuing daily actions of hundreds of thousands of people is, at best, misguided and at worst, farcical," he said in a statement to Ars Technica. "Ms. Thomas-Rasset, I think you got a raw deal, and I'm ashamed to have my name associated with this issue."
Musician Moby -- not a fan of the RIAA -- also took the organization to task over the verdict. "Punishing people for listening to music is exactly the wrong way to protect the music business," he wrote on his blog. "I don't know, but 'it's better to be feared than respected' doesn't seem like such a sustainable business model when it comes to consumer choice."
Chances seem good that U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis also is disappointed with the verdict. Last year, Davis set aside a previous ruling against Thomas-Rasset that found her liable for copyright infringement and ordered her to pay $220,000, or $9,000 per track.
At the time, Davis wrote that those damages were inordinately high and called on Congress to change the law, which currently authorizes damages ranging from $750 to $150,000 per infringement. "While the Court does not discount Plaintiffs' claim that, cumulatively, illegal downloading has far-reaching effects on their businesses, the damages awarded in this case are wholly disproportionate to the damages suffered by plaintiffs," he wrote. "Thomas allegedly infringed on the copyrights of 24 songs -- the equivalent of approximately three CDs, costing less than $54, and yet the total damages awarded is $222,000 -- more than five hundred times the cost of buying 24 separate CDs and more than four thousand times the cost of three CDs."
Meantime, some lawyers are predicting that the verdict against Thomas-Rasset could ultimately backfire on the record labels because it might spur Davis or other judges to rule that the damages provided for by the statute are unconstitutional. For instance, well-known defense attorney Ray Beckerman told Online Media Daily that the "outlandish" $1.92 million verdict serves as an example of an instance where an award authorized by the Copyright Act appears excessive.
RIAA spokesperson Cara Duckworth said the organization repeatedly offered Thomas-Rasset the chance to settle the case for "a few thousand dollars," which she turned down.
Duckworth also said that file-sharing has inflicted economic damage to the music industry. "We appreciate that people feel strongly about these issues. But as several of our member company executives testified at the trial, we represent an industry that has lost more than $6 billion dollars over the past few years primarily due to illegal file-trading," the spokesperson said. "That translates into thousands of working-class jobs lost within the music community and hundreds of artists dropped from rosters."
Last year, the RIAA said it would stop bringing new lawsuits against alleged file-sharers, but would continue to proceed with lawsuits already in the pipeline -- such as the Thomas-Rasset case.