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Kazaa user fined $220,000

The RIAA wins its first victory against a user of a file-sharing network.

The recording industry has won its first victory against a user of a file-sharing network. Late yesterday, a jury in Minnesota determined that Jammie Thomas had in fact used Kazaa to share music files. Finding her guilty of "willful" copyright infringement, he jury ordered her to pay the copyright owners (six labels) $9,250 for each of the 24 songs that were at issue, for a total of $220,000.

Reading the coverage of the closing arguments on Ars Technica and Wired, I can see why the jury reached its decision. Somebody using the screen name "Tereastarr" posted certain music files to Kazaa. Thomas uses that screen name in many different places, including e-mail and her PC log-on. The same songs were found on her hard drive. Her PC is password-protected, so it's hard to argue that somebody else snuck on and did the dastardly deeds. Some of the alternate theories from the defense sound like they're ripped from the headlines of every scary security story you've read in the last five years. (Her computer was pwned by zombies!)

Even so--and I'm not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination--a lot of the evidence seems indirect. That is, despite all the fingers pointing in her direction, I don't think it's possible to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the individual Jammie Thomas uploaded these songs to Kazaa. I'm not sure if there's enough for an appeal, but jury verdicts are notorious for being overturned. (Old adage: if you're innocent, ask for a judge; if you're guilty, ask for a jury trial.) Also, the judge found that the RIAA didn't have to prove that anybody actually downloaded the songs that Thomas posted, only that she posted them in an attempt to violate copyright. According to the site The Recording Industry vs. the People, which is run by a pair of lawyers who've represented some plaintiffs against the RIAA, the decision establishing that precedent was actually vacated the week before the trial.

If the RIAA pursues--and wins--other trials, it could cut down on illegal file-trading. But I tend to think that file-trading software or networks will continue to evolve to make it harder to track who's doing what. I imagine there could be a way of masking IP or MAC addresses, or a way to encrypt the sharing folders on the user's PC so that they're invisible to everybody but the user (who'd need a password even to see them).

Not that it's any justification for copyright violation, but I can see why Ms. Thomas didn't want to pay for the tracks at issue. Richard Marx? Vanessa Williams? Then again, maybe I'm just pretentious and out of touch.