Will 2013 be the year that the Supreme Court of the United States accepts an illegal music downloading case? If K.A.D. Camara has anything to say about it, then “yes,” it will be. For about five years, K.A.D. Camara has represented Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a music “pirate” sued by the Recording Industry Association of America for illegally obtaining – via the Internet – 24 songs. After years of litigation, Camara filed a writ of certiorari, with hopes that the highest court in the land will debate and decide on whether or not the financial awards handed down in illegal downloading lawsuits are commensurate with the crime.
A Summary of Jammie Thomas-Rasset’s Long Legal Tale of Woe
This Internet law legal battle started in the mid-2000s. Back then, the RIAA launched a dragnet-type assault on individuals who were caught downloading music from file sharing websites. Most people settled out of court for a few thousand dollars, but Jammie held out. In 2007, she was sued in a Minnesota district court. Jammie lost and was ordered to pay $220,000 (which works out to $9,250 per song).
Litigation continued, appeals were filed, and after two retrials, the amount Thomas-Rasset owed climbed to $1.5 million. After a third hearing, the amount was lowered to $54,000. The presiding judge felt the eye-popping $1,500,000 was “so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportionate to the offense and obviously unreasonable.” But the U.S. Court of Appeals Eighth Circuit disagreed and reinstated the $222,000 damage award.
Now, Jammie and her counsel are lobbying the Supreme Court to consider her case.
Why Thomas-Rasset’s Lawsuit May Be of Interest to SCOTUS
Other illegal downloading cases have been pitched and turned down by the justices, but some feel this may be the one that gets waved in. Since there was so much conflict over Jammie’s situation in the lower courts, the case is attractive. More than that, since it involves a central Internet law issue of our time, the impetus for handing down a decision is more immediate than in times past. Specifically, in the writ of certiorari, Thomas-Rasset’s attorney argued the timely validity of this case by reasoning that the “fundamental unfairness of the RIAA’s extortionate litigation campaign, and because of the importance of statutory damages to the many American industries governed by copyright including not only recording and publishing, but also software.” Camara also argued that the $220,000 doesn’t “bear a reasonable relationships to the actual injury inflicted on the plaintiff by the defendant.” After all, if Thomas-Rasset bought the 24 songs in question, she would have forked over only $24.
Are The Laws Too Tough On Illegal Downloaders?
Most reasonable people can agree that downloading songs illegally is wrong; but does the punishment fit the crime? As a country, are we OK with bankrupting average citizens who, usually in their rebellious youth, obtain a few songs using the “latest and greatest” technology? Fifty years ago, did we ruin the lives of thousands of kids who tried to lift a Mars Bar from the corner store?
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I strongly believe that all artists should be paid for their work; there’s no question about that. But we should also start asking whether or not the artists are really the ones benefiting in these high-priced piracy lawsuits — does the money really go to them or label executives and lawyers? We should be asking if it’s ethical to bury people in perpetual debt over downloading the latest #1 song that’s on a the radio 24/7? Heck, how different is it than making a mix-tape on your stereo back in the day?
If the SCOTUS accepts the Thomas-Rasset tech case, we may finally have definitive answers to what the lawmakers think about those questions.