First trial of an accused music file sharer on tap

From the Associated Press

minneapolis -- A group of record companies says Jammie Thomas has illegally shared music files including Enya and Swedish death metal online. Today, she will become the first of 26,000 people who have been sued by the recording industry to take the case to trial.

The Brainerd, Minn., resident is accused of illegally sharing 1,702 songs for free on a file-sharing network. Her trial offers the first chance for both sides in the debate over online music sharing to show a jury its version of the facts.

Thomas is accused of violating the song owners’ copyrights. Her lawyer says the record companies haven’t even proved she shared the songs.


Most of the 26,000 people the record industry group has sued have settled by paying a few thousand dollars.

“We think that speaks to the clarity of the law here,” said Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

But lawyers for the defendants say they’ve settled because trials cost tens of thousands of dollars. Thomas’ lawyer, Brian Toder, said she was determined to fight. He declined to make her available for an interview.

“She came into my office and was willing to pay a retainer of pretty much what they wanted to settle for,” he said. “And if someone’s willing to pay a lawyer rather than pay to make it go away, that says a lot.”

Thomas is at risk for a judgment of more than $1.2 million. The recording association is seeking damages, set under federal law, of $750 to $30,000 for each copyright violation.

“We repeatedly offer out-of-court settlements [of] far less than what the law allows,” Lamy said. The lawsuits aim to “communicate that there are consequences for breaking the law and encourage fans to turn to legal online services.”

Jury selection is expected to be completed and opening statements delivered today in Duluth, Minn.

The record companies claim that on Feb. 21, 2005, online investigators at SafeNet Inc. found 1,702 files shared under what they said was a Kazaa account being used by Thomas. The files included songs by Swedish death metal band Opeth, German industrial group VNV Nation and American rock band Chevelle.

“This individual was distributing these audio files for free over the Internet under the user name ‘tereastarrKaZaA’ to potentially millions of other Kazaa users,” the recording association claims, according to court papers.

Virgin Records America Inc., Capitol Records Inc. and Warner Bros. Records Inc. are among the companies suing Thomas.

In addition to filing the lawsuits, the industry group has sent 4,000 pre-lawsuit letters, Lamy said.