RIAA Loses Minneapolis File Sharing Case

By Jerry Del Colliano

The Recording Industry Association of America lost its $2 million lawsuit in a retrial against Jammie Thomas-Rasset even though a jury handed them the verdict they wanted.


The RIAA originally won a $222,000 verdict several years ago but the judge in the first case called a mistrial. Rather than settle as over 30,000 others have done, the defendant then known as Jammie Thomas went back to court.

This jury didn’t believe her when she argued that maybe her children used her computer to share files on Kazaa. In the first trial she testified that a file sharing hacker stole her WiFi connection – and, well, you know the rest.

Despite suing 30,000 people over the past five years, the RIAA has not stopped illegal file sharing.

In fact, file sharing has increased and continues to proliferate at a rapid pace.

That’s why the record labels and their legal arm, the RIAA, by and large lost in court yesterday.

The labels are certainly not going to collect on Thomas-Rasset’s judgment.

File sharing continues to elude the labels' ability to control it.

And all those poor artists are still going to get screwed by a record label near them someday.

What the big national headlines shout out is that the label’s can win in court but that file sharing is unstoppable. Even if you factor in the recession and all those poor lawyers who are unemployed and underemployed, the RIAA can’t argue that this scorched earth strategy was worth it.

I may have mentioned this before, but I once had a student when I was teaching at USC who had been sued by the RIAA. I know that because one day I invited an RIAA rep to speak to the class.

The snagged student was nervous. His classmates openly spoke about stealing music. They certainly were not afraid of the big bad wolf. No matter how the RIAA rep spun it, most of the young folks admitted the next day (when the RIAA was not present) that they were going to continue pirating music.

That was major because this one young man who was still shaking in his boots was very apologetic. Turns out his parents got hammered with the $3,500 settlement and he was not about to steal another tune. I believed him.

So what I observed is that if the labels want to stop file sharing dead in its tracks, they need to sue everybody under the age of 30.


Once you touch the fire, you know how hot it is. But I am convinced that unless everyone is sued and obediently settles, all the court victories in the world aren’t going to get the labels to stop music piracy.

The reason?

The record industry cannot control the front of the store, so to speak.

You know, when you go to a brick and mortar record store you can’t just walk out with whatever you want. You’ll wind up getting arrested.

But there is no way for the labels to stop people from walking out of the virtual record store with whatever they want.

Oh, there is one way, but the labels reject it. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Label execs have their heads so far up the legal system that they just can’t see the end game. I’m sorry they lost control of their music but unless you sue everyone, the RIAA just isn’t going to scare the next generation.

Business execs may cheat on their taxes, steal from the company or otherwise be a greedy executive, but consumers cannot steal music.

I often engage young people in discussions about ethics and file sharing and it may or may not surprise you to know that many do not steal music for ethical reasons. Most, however, admit to it. Some even use the Robin Hood defense – stealing from the rich (the labels) to help the poor (the students).

Ethical considerations are worth an open and honest discussion, but speaking solely in the realm of business – it seems odd that the labels, which are dying each day, fail to realize that the one thing that has made them famous – suing customers – doesn’t work.

What does work is a bitter pill for them to swallow.

You probably wouldn’t want to give up $8 billion in annual CD sales despite the fact that record sales have been dropping almost without exception since 2000.

But the reality is that the labels cannot stop stealing.

They can’t slow it down.

They really can’t even make a future file sharer think twice before they click.

What’s amazing is that the labels, like their brethren in the radio industry, are going down the toilet without a plan B.

No alternative to what happens if they can’t scare their potential customers into paying for music.

Aah, and why?

Because the price of music is the problem.

Not its easy availability on the Internet.

Not a generation of bad dudes.

The labels refuse to enter the digital 21st Century where music is worth nothing when it is stolen in large numbers and somewhere between five and ten cents when you factor in 99 cent legal downloads.

If the labels make music not worth stealing – by offering it in both a convenient and intuitive way on the net at five to ten cents – they can become bulk resellers.

$9.99 is not the going rate for an album even if iTunes charges that price.

Zero is the price.

99 cents is not the prevailing price for a single tune in spite of the fact that Apple has established that price.

Zero is the price.

Label execs don’t want to give away music for next to nothing, I get it.

They apparently would rather give away music for -- nothing – as they are doing now when more music is stolen than purchased.

So Jammie Thomas-Rasset may have to clean Clive Davis’ executive bathroom for the rest of her life (or his) to help repay her debt to society.

Proving once again that the labels got out of the record business nine years ago.

Would you buy music from a label that can't tell a hit from a flop?

Suing customers -- a flop.

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