RIAA Loses First Copyright Trial

Yesterday, a jury convicted a Minneapolis woman, Jammie Thomas, of downloading music illegally and awarded the record labels $220,000 -- $9,250 for each of 24 songs of which the companies sought damages.

Still, the RIAA and the labels lost.

Hope they enjoy the money – if they collect it. The cost of “winning” these highly publicized trials is excessive in terms of finances and as far as bad PR, you can’t scare RIAA with bad PR – they actually think suing clients, settling out of court or winning at trial, will actually stop music piracy.

Still, the RIAA and the labels lost.

Piracy is at an all time high. You can buy music from Russia for pennies on the dollar. DRM-free music is beginning to catch on with musicians with nothing to lose. Big acts like Radiohead are in essence giving their music away for a tip jar – an honor system, if you will. Fans love the possibilities if not the reality of Radiohead's project. But never mind. The RIAA won its first court case.

Still, the RIAA and the labels lost.

The Minneapolis debacle reminds us all about the great American jury system that lawyers seem to love. You know, the one that let O.J. off the first time and the same system that couldn’t decide if a serial handgun abuser like Phil Spector actually killed his girlfriend. In America, winning a trial by jury means nothing – and the same can be said for losing. It’s the American way of keeping college law schools in business. Therefore, the RIAA should have the upper hand in scaring young music pirates to death. They have plenty of lawyers so bring the pirates on!

Still, the RIAA and the labels lost.

A Sony executive testifying at the trial admitted that the four-year RIAA holy war against its youthful customers is costing the music industry millions of dollars and is losing money for the labels – something they are getting very good at, by the way. If you like trials – and apparently lots of people do – you got to hear Sony BMG’s head of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, admit in sworn testimony that the labels have no idea of the actual damages it suffers from file-sharing. The RIAA had sued an estimated 20,000 people – some actually living, some innocent – and settled with most of them for between $3-4,000. They take the rest to court.

So, let’s see what the RIAA and labels have accomplished with their anti-piracy war:

1. They’re losing money hand-over-fist by their own admission and piracy is increasing exponentially.

2. Downloaders are proving they are not afraid of the big bad wolf and illegal downloading is not likely to subside even after the Minnesota “victory”. I guess it’s a draw – the labels win, and illegal downloading increases. Nice job.

3. The labels continue to see drastic drops in CD sales without corresponding increases in legal digital sales while they are suing their customers.

4. Apple is eating their lunch while the labels are picking on victims smaller than they are. Steve Jobs is unstoppable right now and even the bullies at the record labels are afraid of him. But there’s always radio to pick on.

5. Radio is now alienated at the labels for trying to extort performance taxes from them – the very stations that used promote all their records for free. A court victory like the one in Minneapolis should raise the labels' hubris level even higher for the next battle: music industry v. radio. Go ahead, how lucky do you feel?

So, enjoy your $220,000 if you ever collect. A label exec told me recently legal fees are nothing for a label.

So, how about a toast?

To your victory in Minneapolis and to your outstanding management and legal strategy that brilliantly enabled you to win the battle and lose the war.

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