Jury gets music downloading case in Minneapolis

A federal jury began deliberations Thursday in the nation's only file-sharing case to go to trial as attorneys for both sides disputed in closing arguments what the evidence actually showed.

An attorney for the recording industry, Tim Reynolds, said the "greater weight of the evidence" showed that Jammie Thomas-Rasset was responsible for the illegal file-sharing that took place on her computer. He asked the jury to hold her accountable to deter others from a practice he said has significantly harmed the people who bring music to everyone.

Defense attorney Joe Sibley said the music companies failed to prove allegations that Thomas-Rasset gave away songs by Gloria Estefan, Sheryl Crow, Green Day, Journey and others.

"Only Jammie Thomas's computer was linked to illegal file-sharing on Kazaa," Sibley said. "They couldn't put a face behind the computer."

Sibley urged jurors not to ruin the 32-year-old Brainerd woman's life with a debt she could never pay. Under federal copyright law, the jury could award the recording companies up to $150,000 for each of the 24 songs at issue.

"You need to be $3.6 million certain when you go back that Jammie Thomas was the face behind the computer," he said.

A different jury in 2007 found that Thomas-Rasset had violated the 24 copyrights and awarded six recording companies $222,000, or $9,250 per song, but U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ordered a new trial after deciding later he had erred in instructions to jurors.

This time, in effect, Davis instructed the jurors that in order to find Thomas-Rasset infringed any copyrights, they must determine that someone actually downloaded the songs. He said distribution needed to occur, though he didn't explicitly define distribution. Before, Davis said simply making the songs available on the Kazaa file-sharing network was enough.

This case was the only one of more than 30,000 similar lawsuits to make it all the way to trial. The vast majority of people targeted by the music industry had settled for about $3,500 each. The recording industry has said it stopped filing such lawsuits last August and is instead now working with Internet service providers to fight the worst offenders.

In her testimony this week, Thomas-Rasset denied she shared any songs. On Wednesday, the mother of four and self-described "huge music fan" raised the possibility for the first time in the long-running case that her children or ex-husband might have done it. The defense did not provide any evidence, though, that any of them had shared the files.

The recording companies accused Thomas-Rasset of offering 1,700 songs on Kazaa as of February 2005, before the company became a legal music subscription service following a settlement with entertainment companies. For simplicity's sake the music industry tried to prove only 24 infringements.

Reynolds argued Thursday that the evidence clearly points to Thomas-Rasset as the person who made the songs available on Kazaa under the screen name "tereastarr." It's the same nickname she acknowledged having used for years for her e-mail and several other computer accounts, including her MySpace page.

Reynolds said the copyright security company MediaSentry traced the files offered by "tereastarr" on Kazaa to Thomas-Rasset's Internet Protocol address — the online equivalent of a street address — and to her modem.

He said MediaSentry downloaded a sample of them from the shared directory on her computer. That's an important point, given Davis' new instructions to jurors.

Although the plaintiffs weren't able to prove that anyone but MediaSentry downloaded songs off her computer because Kazaa kept no such records, Reynolds told the jury it's only logical that many users had downloaded songs offered through her computer because that's what Kazaa was there for.

Sibley argued it would have made no sense for Thomas-Rasset to use the name "tereastarr" to do anything illegal, given that she had used it widely for several years.

He also portrayed the defendant as one of the few people brave enough to stand up to the recording industry, and he warned jurors that they could also find themselves accused on the basis of weak evidence if their computers are ever linked to illegal file-sharing.

"They are going to come at you like they came at 'tereastarr,"' he said.

Steve Marks, executive vice president and general counsel of the Recording Industry Association of America, estimated earlier this week that only a few hundred of the lawsuits remain unresolved and that fewer than 10 defendants were actively fighting them.

The companies suing are subsidiaries of all four major recording companies, Warner Music Group, Vivendi's Universal Music Group, EMI Group and Sony's Sony Music Entertainment.

The recording industry has blamed online piracy for declines in music sales, although other factors include the rise of legal music sales online, which emphasize buying individual tracks rather than full albums.

Under federal law, the recording companies are entitled to $750 to $30,000 per infringement, though the jury can award up to $150,000 per track if it finds the infringements were willful.