Record Labels Vs Thomas-Rasset – Take 2

The only person to lose a song-sharing lawsuit to the recording industry is now the only person to lose two song-sharing lawsuits.

On June 18 a federal jury in Minneapolis ruled Jammie Thomas-Rasset “committed willful violation” of the copyrights on 24 songs and awarded the major labels $1.92 million in damages, which works out to $80,000 per song.

Which is probably enough to make Thomas-Rasset wish she didn’t get a retrial. The first jury awarded the labels only $222,000, or $9,250 per song.

During her first trial the recording industry claimed she made more than 1,700 songs available. However, as in most infringement cases, the plaintiff often includes only a few examples in the complaint. In the case of the recording industry vs. Thomas-Rasset, the labels cited only 24 examples.

The recording industry sued Jammie Thomas-Rasset for illicitly providing songs for distribution through peer-to-peer networks in 2007, giving the 32-year-old Brainerd, Minn., woman the dubious honor of being the first person sued by the Recording Industry Association of America for song sharing to actually have her day in court. Other individuals sued for sharing copyrighted songs on P2P networks opted to settle with the recording industry instead, usually paying fines amounting to a few thousand dollars.

But Thomas-Rasset decided to fight the civil charges brought by the recording industry, and her defeat made for another historic moment – the first P2P lawsuit resulting in an RIAA victory.

However, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis eventually concluded he erred on the side of the recording industry when he gave his final instructions to the jury and ordered a retrial.

What was it that Davis told the jury? Simply put, the judge said the recording industry didn’t need to prove Thomas-Rasset actually downloaded copyright-infringing songs belonging to the major labels.

Proving the defendant guilty may seem like a no-brainer, but the recording industry’s proof focused on the I.P. address for Thomas-Rasset’s computer. At the time of the first trial, the recording industry argued the I.P. address was proof enough to convict her, and the judge shared that viewpoint in his instructions to the jury.

But Davis started having second thoughts almost as soon as the jury returned a guilty verdict. Was Thomas-Rasset responsible for illegally distributing copyrighted music, or was someone unbeknownst to her using her computer to break the law?

As the new trial began on June 15, recording industry attorney Tim Reynolds told the jury the labels would prove Thomas-Rasset illegally shared songs. Thomas-Rasset’s new defense attorney – Kiwi Camara – countered that the defendant would testify she didn’t share any songs illegally and the labels would have to prove that she did.

It’s kind of like proving someone was driving a car involved in an illegal activity. Maybe a family member was driving, or maybe the car was stolen. No matter, the law has to prove you were behind the wheel when the crime took place.

But this time the jury decided Thomas-Rasset was in the driver’s seat. Although she denied sharing songs, and indicated her children or ex-husband might be the culprits, she did acknowledge that the screen name used on the Kazaa account – “tereastarr” – had been her online name for years and she had used it for her e-mail handle as well as other computer accounts.
And now Thomas-Rasset owes the major labels $1.92 million. Too bad for her she didn’t accept the labels’ offer to settle for a few thousand dollars.

File Sharing Goes To The Opera

The folks behind Opera recently announced it has added new technology to the Web browser enabling users to turn their computers into individual servers.

Called Opera Unite, the technology allows users to transform their computers into machines capable of hosting Web sites, blogs, and just about anything usually placed on a third-party server.

Like file-sharing. However, the Oslo-based Opera company says the file-sharing feature is for you to exchange files with friends rather than share content with the entire world. Whether the entertainment industry is going to be happy with this feature probably depends on just how many “friends” Opera Unite can share files with.

According to the company, users designate the directory they wish to share with their buddies and Opera Unite generates a direct URL to that directory for distribution to others. While sending that URL to a few close friends is unlikely to cause any infringement concerns, it’s easy to imagine mailing lists consisting of hundreds of thousands of potential downloaders waiting for that specific URL.

Along with file swapping, Opera Unite also provides a media player enabling users to listen to their private digital music stash wherever they may be. Other features include “The Lounge” – a self-contained chat service you can run on your computer, and “Fridge,” which gives users a virtual refrigerator for posting notes.

While Opera Unite may be full of whiz-bang whistles and bells, as soon as the company announced the new technology, tech bloggers cited possible security problems as well as local area network (LAN) issues. With internal corporate networks often experiencing congestion problems, it’s easy to speculate as to how those problems might grow if individual computers become Web servers.

But those security concerns are based on how writers think Opera Unite may work, and are not necessarily descriptive of how the technology actually performs in the real world. Plus, when you consider how Internet technology in general often focuses on providing individual users with more power, turning desktop computers into servers is a concept that would eventually have become reality – with or without Opera Unite.

“With sever capability in the browser, Web developers can create Web applications with profound ease,” said Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner.

“Consumers have the flexibility to choose private and efficient ways of sharing information. We believe Opera Unite is one of our most significant innovations yet, because it changes forever the fundamental fabric of the Web.”