The human-to-computer connection is almost impossible to prove without eyewitnesses or videotape. Trouble is, the RIAA didn't have to prove Thomas-Rasset actually swapped files. They just had to convince a jury of that. The fact that Jammie appears to have tried to fool the RIAA by submitting the wrong hard drive to them during the first trial's original discovery period probably didn't help her case. Just a hunch.
The file-swappin' Minnesota mom says she's broke, so I guess the record companies will have to send their goons over to her house to collect her furniture and sell it on eBay. Maybe she can work off the debt by agreeing to wash RIAA chief Mitch Bainwol's cars.
However, PC World's JR Raphael points out the excessive size of the award could play to Thomas-Rasset's favor:
The Supreme Court has previously indicated that "grossly excessive" punitive damage awards are a violation of the U.S. Constitution. An award can be considered "grossly excessive" if there's too big of a gap between the actual harm done and the amount of money being named. Courts can also consider the "degree of reprehensibility" of the defendant's actions, along with how the penalty compares to similar ones issued in the past.
So it's remotely possible some good may come from this case by revisiting the insane financial penalties tacked onto copyright infringement (up to $150,000 per violation). It won't let Jammie Thomas-Rasset off the hook (at least, not entirely), but it might help other folks who get squashed by bloodless corporate cartels.
If the record companies were hoping this trial would make them look less like Snidely Whiplash tying poor Nell Fenwick to the railroad tracks, they are mistaken. But it seems they don't really care what people think of them.
Over the last five years (and some 35,000 lawsuits), the RIAA has been using the same tactics employed by terrorists: Isolate and attack vulnerable individuals to intimidate the general populace. But over the past year, even they have had to accept that this strategy isn't working. Now they're trying to get ISPs to play bad cop. Same evildoers, different tactics.
And now for the usual disclaimer: Nobody here is saying artists shouldn't get paid. They should. The question is by whom and how much. What are the odds of any of the artists whose songs got shared seeing a dime of that $1.92 million judgment? Not bloody likely.
The more important case to watch is unfolding in Rhode Island right now, as Joel Tenenbaum and a team of Harvard legal eagles are trying to put the RIAA and its terrorist tactics on trial. The attorneys in that case and Thomas-Rasset's are also teaming up to cook up a class-action suit against the RIAA. (Let's hope Joel's attorneys are driving that bus, not Jammie's.)
Like Vanessa Williams sings, "Save the Best for Last."
What do you think is a fair penalty for illegal file sharing? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.