UPDATE at 8:46 p.m. PDT: A Minnesota woman must pay $220,000 to six of the top music labels after a federal jury found on Thursday that she violated their copyright.
Accused of encouraging the illegal sharing of more than 1,700 songs, Jammie Thomas, 30, elected to fight it out with the recording industry instead of settling out of court for far less money. The ensuing legal battle marked the first time the recording industry has argued a file-sharing case before a jury.
Since 2003, many of the 26,000 persons sued by the Recording Industry Assoc. of America (RIAA) have avoided litigation by agreeing to pay a few thousand dollars. Thomas, who could not be reached for comment, has always maintained her innocence. Accused of sharing music through the use of peer-to-peer service, Kazaa, she told the jury that she didn't even own a Kazaa account.
The jury didn't buy her argument. Thomas was ordered to pay $9,250 for each of the 24 songs that the RIAA concentrated on. She was initially accused of sharing 1,702 songs. The decision is important in that it sends a message to file sharers that Internet anonymity won't protect them from lawsuits, said Chris Castle, a copyright attorney and longtime music industry executive.
Castle said the Web makes it simple to hide. Proving who was sitting at a computer at any given time is very difficult for copyright owners. What is precedent-setting about this case is that the jury decided it doesn't matter who was sharing music on Thomas' computer.