FOR THE WEEK OF OCT. 15, 2007
Illegal music downloads bring huge penalty
Coverage of electronic technology, the music business and other entertainment often appears in the main news pages, not just in specialized sections. Challenge students to find examples.
Digital music files haven’t replaced live concerts, CDs and DVDs. Send pupils on a newspaper search for an article, event listing or ad featuring musical entertainment from the era before MP3s.
Jurors in the downloading lawsuit trial learned about technical and legal aspects of online music delivery. Start a class discussion about the role of newspapers in educating readers of all ages about advances in communication, technology and other aspects of modern life. How does this result in better voters, jurors, parents and consumers?
In the first jury trial of a music downloading lawsuit, a single mother in Minnesota this month was ordered to pay $220,000 to six record companies after being found guilty of stealing and making available at least 24 songs through her account with an Internet file-sharing site called Kazaa. An industry group, the Recording Industry Association of America, sued 30-year-old Jammie Thomas for copyright violations – just as it has sued more than 26,000 people nationwide since 2003. Most of the others, including many students, settled out of court for a few thousand dollars.
Thomas, originally accused of downloading 1,702 songs without payment, chose a legal showdown instead of a settlement. Her lawyer argued that someone could have hacked into the mom’s Kazaa account, dowloaded the songs to her home computer and shared them with others – a scenario jurors found impossible to believe. They sided unanimously with the music industry and held Thomas responsible.
Internet piracy costs record companies billions of dollars, they say. Ever since the original Napster emerged in the late 1990s, the industry association has been working to crack down on file sharers. Now it gains a legal advantage from the Oct. 4 decision, which shows that Internet anonymity doesn’t protect digital song thieves from costly lawsuits. The industry hopes that message makes legal downloads of 99-cent tracks on iTunes look like the only safe way to go.
Trial winner says: "This decision affirms what we've said all along. This kind of action is illegal and when people break the law there can be real consequences. This sends a very clear message that if you steal music online there can be real consequences. There is a lot of deterrent value to that message becoming public." -- Jonathan Lamy, spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America
Trial loser says: "I refused to settle with the RIAA because I didn't do anything wrong. . . . Just because it's my name on the case, doesn't mean I'm alone. There are so many other people who have taken up the case with me." – Jammie Thomas of Duluth, Minn.
Consumer activist says: "This lawsuit campaign is misguided. I would predict that this would have zero effect on the people using file sharing networks. The record industry has sued over 20,000 so far and there's been no slowdown. We may see a temporary drop in the near term, but I would predict that the levels would be back within six months." – Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
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