Defendant owes $222,000 for illegal downloading

The worst possible outcome -- a fine too high to bear, but likely too low to cause much effort at reforming copyright laws.

Published October 4, 2007 9:58PM (EDT)

The federal jury in Duluth just came back with its verdict in Capitol Records v. Jammie Thomas, the file-sharing trial I just wrote about below. Thomas was found liable for infringing upon music copyrights by downloading songs from Kazaa. According to Ars Technica's excellent Eric Bangeman at the scene, the jury awarded the plaintiff $9,250 per song. For getting 24 songs, Thomas must pay $222,000, the panel determined.

The music industry had shown that Thomas' computer -- her IP address -- was linked to many downloads. Her username on Kazaa was Terrastar, the same name she used for getting into her computer, for her e-mail, for online shopping sites, and for her profile on

Thomas' attorney had argued that despite these similarities, the industry couldn't prove that Thomas had been at the keyboard when the songs were downloaded. "There are, clearly, alternate explanations," he said. "We don't know what those alternate explanations are."

The jury apparently didn't agree.

Earlier I wondered whether a large fine for a young mother would shock lawmakers into realizing the folly of the law. Now I fear that $222,000 may not be large enough.

Sure, it's likely prohibitive for Thomas herself, and its precedent will probably strengthen the RIAA's other cases -- now they can use Thomas as an example of what happens when, instead of settling with the industry, people choose to fight it.

What am I saying? This verdict seems the worst possible outcome.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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