$1.92 Million Question

Although the recording industry emerged victorious in its copyright lawsuit against a Minnesota woman, it’s starting to look as if there are no real winners in the only file-sharing lawsuit to ever make it to trial.

On June 18 a jury sided with the record companies and ordered 32-year-old Jammie Thomas-Rasset to pay the labels $1.92 million in damages for infringing on the copyrights of 24 songs, which works out to $80,000 per track.

The verdict is the second time a jury has ordered Thomas-Rasset to pay record companies damages for illicitly offering tracks for downloading by other peer-to-peer users. The first time the recording industry sued her, the jury ordered her to pay $222,000 to the labels.

However, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis decided he had erred in his instructions to the jury, resulting in another trial for the lawsuit.

But unless Thomas-Rasset wins the lottery she’s probably not going to pay the $1.92 million judgment, if only because she simply doesn’t have the money, making the recording industry’s victory slightly hollow at best.

On one side of the issue, the labels do have a face to attach to illicit music distribution via file-sharing as well as a penalty demonstrating what might happen to others if they persist in their wicked, wicked, copyright-infringing ways. Recording Industry Association of America spokeswoman Cara Duckworth described the verdict as a “clarity of the law,” reminding others that music piracy is punishable.

But the RIAA could be facing a public image problem if it’s tagged as the organization that’s shaking down a low-income mother for almost $2 million because she had 24 copyrighted, major-label songs in her “shared” Kazaa directory.

Although reports indicated Thomas-Rasset might have stored more than 1,500 infringing tunes on her hard drive, the RIAA shortened the list to 24 recordings by high-profile artists.

However, an artist responsible for one of the recordings found on Thomas-Rasset’s computer wasn’t happy with the verdict. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Richard Marx issued a statement declaring his dislike for illegal downloading, while at the same time decrying the judgment, saying he had always been sympathetic to music fans because they have “been consistently financially abused by the greedy actions of the major labels.”

“Her accountability itself is not in question, but this show of force posing as judicial comeuppance is clearly abusive,” Marx wrote. “Ms. Thomas-Rasset, I think you got a raw deal and I’m ashamed to have my name associated with this issue.”

There is also speculation the almost $2 million verdict might influence which way legislators will vote regarding the radio industry and royalties. For almost as long as music has been played on the radio, the recording industry has lobbied for stations to pay royalties to record labels.

So far Congress has refused, saying record companies get promotional consideration in return for stations playing their records. The issue is before Congress once again, but will representatives want to side with an industry that just won $1.92 million from someone for sharing two dozen songs?

That’s what New York Daily News columnist David Hinckley asked, writing, “If the RIAA looks like a cold, money-grabbing machine that is willing to crush a divorced mom for downloading 24 songs, well, that may not be the organization with which legislators will rush to be lining up.”

But not all opinions attacked the million-dollar-plus judgment. The Progress & Freedom Foundation, described as a “free-market think tank,” basically said Thomas-Rasset got what she deserved.

“Legally acquiring a license to give copies of a song to potentially millions of Kazaa users might well have cost $80,000 per song,” said Tom Sydnor, the director of the foundation’s Center For The Study of Digital Property. “Moreover, if the jury concluded that the defendant falsified her testimony, it could fairly seek to punish and deter such flagrant wrongdoing.”

Music + Twitter = Profits?

A new study indicates Twitter users love music and are more likely to pay the piper.

A report by research outfit The NPD Group says awareness of Twitter more than doubled during the first quarter of this year, reaching a 52-percent awareness level among Internet users in the United States.

Of course, you already knew that, what with the 140-character messaging service appearing in the headlines almost every day, and most recently being attributed as one of the few conduits for protesters in Iran to get their messages out to the world. But it’s the report’s reference to music fans using Twitter that’s raising a few eyebrows.

Seems that awareness of Twitter is higher among music fans than the national average, with NPD placing it at 67 percent during the first quarter. Furthermore, 12 percent of music buyers claimed to have used Twitter during the same time period, versus 8 percent overall.

What the recording industry should find encouraging is NPD also discovered that 33 percent of Twitter users reported buying a CD during the first quarter and 34 percent responded saying they had purchased a digital download. Compared with the 23 and 16 percent averages for overall Web users, respectively, the new report indicates Twitter-users are more inclined to buy music than illicitly grabbing it off of a file-sharing network, or ripping the tracks from someone else’s CD.

According to NPD’s figures, when Twitter users purchase music, they spend more cash, and purchase 77 percent more downloads than their non-tweeting contemporaries.

NPD also reported Twitter-users are more likely than the average Web surfer to get involved with online music activities, with one-third listening to music on social-networking sites, 41 percent listening to online radio, (nearly double the usage compared with non-Twitter users) and 39 percent watching music vids online.

“Twitter has the potential to help foster the discovery of new music, and improve targeted marketing of music to groups of highly involved and technologically savvy consumers, but it has to be done right,” said NPD entertainment industry analyst Russ Crupnick. “There must be a careful balance struck between entertainment and direct conversation on one hand, and marketing on the other. Used properly Twitter has the power to entertain – and to motivate music fans to purchase more new albums, downloads, merchandise and concert tickets.”