Jammie Thomas loses lawyer but avoids paying RIAA's legal fees

Fund-raising efforts of woman ordered to pay recording industry $222,000 fall far short of amount needed to fund appeal.

Jammie Thomas

UPDATE: Jammie Thomas is going to have to sell a lot more thongs.

Thomas, the woman ordered by a federal court in October to pay the recording industry $222,000 for pirating music, doesn't have enough money to fund an upcoming appeal and has been forced to look for a new lawyer, according to her current attorney, Brian Toder.

Thomas was the first person sued by the recording industry for copyright violations to argue a case before a jury and was found to have illegally shared 24 digital-music files.

Toder, who represented Thomas in the civil case, told CNET News.com on Wednesday that handling her appeal on a pro bono basis would be too expensive. Thomas has been selling merchandise, such as T-shirts, coffee mugs, and women's underwear, as well as accepting donations, to help raise money for her defense. But the fund-raising efforts have "actually raised very little," Toder said.

"I'm very confident she will find representation," Toder added. "There are many passionate organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), chomping on the bit to help her."

The other good news for Thomas is that the music labels have agreed to waive their lawyer fees, Toder said. After winning a judgment against Thomas, the record companies could have required her to pay their legal costs.

Toder said that because one of the plaintiffs, Virgin Records, was forced to dismiss its part of the case on the day of trial, Thomas was therefore entitled to attorneys fees from Virgin. Toder used that to negotiate with the rest of the plaintiffs and they agreed not to seek fees.

That Toder was not going to handle Thomas' appeal came as news to Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney for the EFF, which advocates for the rights of Internet users and has offered support to Thomas in the past. He said the group would most certainly try to help Thomas when the time came but that he couldn't guarantee anything.

"We've helped lots of people caught in the music industry's litigation campaign to find counsel," von Lohmann said. "But I can't say we've succeeded in every case. It's easier for me to find lawyers in San Francisco and New York than it is in Minnesota...If people think we're out there backstopping every lawsuit, they need to donate a lot more money."

Thomas' case, however, has several things going for it, von Lohmann said.

"There is a strong basis for an appeal based on the jury instruction," von Lohmann said. "There's been a lot of speculation that (Thomas) is guilty, but the thing to keep in mind on appeal is that it's not whether the jury got the facts right. It's about whether the right legal standards were applied. A lot of copyright attorneys think the jury instructions were erroneous."

Thomas won't be able to file her appeal until a federal district judge in Minnesota decides on a motion to reduce the jury award. The $222,000 award violates the Constitution, Toder said.

The blog TorrentFreak was first to report that Thomas is looking for a new attorney.

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