There was no way the recording industry was going to come out of the Jammie Thomas file-swapping case smelling like anything but cow dung. If they lost, we'd be singing "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead." Having won a jury verdict, they come off as a combination of Snidely Whiplash and Vlad the Impaler on a bad hair day.
Apparently somebody at the RIAA really believes the cliche that there is no such thing as bad press. That somebody is a dumbass.
Wired.com had an interview with one of the jurors, who proudly proclaimed he'd never been on them crazy Internets and never planned to be. The verdict, he said, was designed to "send a message" to file swappers around the world. Yes, and that message is, "I'm a bleedin' eedjit."
Asking a Net-ignorant jury to reach this verdict is like asking a caveman to decide an arson case. (I'm sure he'd want to send a message to everyone who owns a cigarette lighter.) But he's exactly the kind of juror the RIAA wanted. Clinging stubbornly to the past instead of embracing the future is what the recording industry does best. It's taken Apple iTunes to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
All of this could have been averted in the pre-Napster '90s, had the record industry woken up, smelled the java, and began disentangling itself from the business of shipping pitted plastic platters around the world. Too late now.
Of course, the Phat Lady isn't singing just yet. Thomas plans to appeal, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has decided to weigh in on her behalf -- the EFF having had some success fighting copyright evildoers. Lord knows she needs the help, because her defense strategy was awful.
What really tweaks me is the RIAA argument that file swapping steals money out of artists' pockets. The notion that someone who downloaded 1000 songs from Kazaa would have otherwise paid $990 for them on iTunes (or dropped $10,000+ to get the same songs on CD) is flat-out stupid. Do some people swap instead of shop? Sure. But I'd bet it's less than 5 percent.
The real damage is probably closer to $5 per song, not the $750 to $150,000 penalty that copyright law provides. Even then, studies have shown that people who swap files buy more music than people who don't. In other words, the RIAA is going after its most loyal customers.
Basic Darwinism dictates that the recording industry must adapt or die. I'm betting on the latter. And so are bands like Radiohead, which have decided to cut out the middleman and sell direct to their fans. Sounds like they're trying to send a message. But I'll bet the record companies are too tone deaf to hear it.
Are you RIAA lawsuit bait? Post your testimony below or send your deposition to me directly. Cool swag is available for top tipsters, free for the swapping.