Jammie Thomas and The RIAA Go Back to Court

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A while after peer-to-peer file sharing first became all the rage, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began filing tens of thousands of lawsuits against individuals it believed were guilty of violating copyright and illegally distributing music files online. Many of the accused simply shut down their shares and apologized, paid settlements, or tried to fade into the woodwork—but not Minnesota’s Jammie Thomas. Thomas sought her day in court and argued she’d never illegally shared or downloaded music…but the jury found her guilty of making music files available for download and fined her a mammoth $220,000. In late 2008, however, the case was declared a mistrial, with Judge Michael Davis saying he had committed an error of law by instructing the jury Thomas could be found guilty without any actual proof she had distributed copyrighted material.

Now, Thomas—who has since married and is now officially Jammie Thomas-Rasset—is going back to court for a retrial before Judge Davis, and she has a new legal team, including K.A.D. Camara, the youngest person to graduate from Harvard Law (with high honors, at that); Camara and his partner are handling the case for free. Thomas remains the only person sued by the RIAA over file sharing to take the case to court.

Camara and team have moved (unsuccessfully) to have data collected by the MediaSentry antipiracy service suppressed on the grounds it violated wiretapping laws; the MediaSentry data is the basis of the RIAA’s claim that Thomas shared music illegally. However, Camara is successfully forcing the record labels to produce certified copyrights to the music in question, something they weren’t required to do at the first trial. And it remains to be seen whether the RIAA can prove Thomas distributed copyrighted material.

The RIAA has since backed away from its "sue-’em-all" approach to combatting file sharing—and the consumer backlash it generated—and instead is working quietly with ISPs and broadband providers to have offenders’ Internet connections hobbled and (eventually) shut down if the RIAA believes they are engaged in illegal music distribution. The RIAA’s new tactic has also met with resistance from the EFF and other consumers’ right organizations.


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