Tons of free music ... and other global injustices


Real Mail Ah, let's hear it for "consensus". These days, consensus is a splendid, many-sided thing that can mean anything you want it to mean - and whatever it is, you'll find the supporting evidence on the internet. Which is great news for hacks, who love to be soothsayers to the nation - and tell us what we're really thinking.

This week saw CNET's Greg Sandoval play the part of Mystic Meg. Looking into his crystal ball, Greg pronounced:

"Almost everybody agrees Jammie Thomas is thumping the recording industry in a battle for hearts and minds."

Ah, but not so fast. The part of the record industry that's represented by the RIAA is hardly more beloved today than it was a fortnight ago. The derisory settlement to its price-fixing case, one correspondent reminded me, is far short of what the lobby group cost consumers.

(And we should point out that the very significant, but always overlooked part of the industry called "songwriters and composers" hasn't filed suit.)

No, the fly in this particular oink-ment is that Jammie Thomas isn't quite the heroic victim she's made out to be. She may even be the World's Dumbest File Sharer.

It just took a bit of plain, blue-collar Mid Western common sense to point out this out.

CNET's Sandoval was doubtless scouring message boards, blogs and even Comments sections like ours, where people whipped themselves into a right old frenzy about the first P2P file sharing trial. But away from the ritual spleen-letting, a few readers beg to differ.

Through bad advice and bad judgement, Jammie Thomas was persuaded to put the matter to a jury trial. Instead of the paying the RIAA tax of a couple of thousand dollars, she was landed with a bill for $220,000.

The jury took five minutes to establish her guilt, and then five hours deciding to punish her for wasting their time. Quite simply: she was insulting her fellow citizens by trying it on.

All of which means its entirely her own fault, say readers.

Writes Kevin Hall:

It really does beggar belief why anyone would try appealing this one. She has almost no chance of winning - I can only assume she is hoping the eye-watering fine might be reduced; on the other hand the appeal court might increase it as she is simply being belligerent in bringing it to them.

The facts of the matter are incontestable and there is really no point of law you can pick a part; I'm no lawyer but this really is a black and white case. The EFF embarrass us all in taking this case on; this isn't about freedom in any sensible way. She broke the law and has to face the consequences of doing that. There is nothing wrong in fighting an unjust law (God knows there's loads of them) but she deliberately lied to the court and was patently dishonest. Freedom comes with a responsibility to be honest and to show integrity which she hasn't.

The problem is the EFF are just making this worse. They're trying to pull this apart in a game of semantics which always make the law an ass. If they're trying to the defence of "no physical objects" then they're into the ridiculous area of the "victim-less crime" which is pretty much indefensible.

The message is simple - as the law stands what she did is illegal and trying to both appeal and to re-categorise it as some kind fight for freedom is totally ridiculous. If you want to make a stand against tyrannical copyright law then by all means, but this kind of action is futile. Freedom has to stand for something more than being able to bootleg CDs with impunity...

He adds:

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said the problem is the sense of entitlement; the arguments being put forward are absolutely feeble and the anger and hostility of the people extremely strange. What facinates and at the same annoys me is that these people aren't even pretentious enough to even be advocating a political point of view; these people aren't old Marxists or left-wingers who have some central dispute with property rights. The downloaders are really just greedy juvenilles who simply just don't want to pay for anything.

They also never let the facts get in the way of a good argument; CD prices have historically never been lower, 15 years ago you would never, ever have paid £7.50 for a top 10 album, it would have been double that. Their argument is fundamentally selective, yes a CD probably costs about 30p to make but this same argument can be applied to any high-margin business which they don't do. Starbucks mark drinks up by 400%; T-shirts sold in supermarkets cost 5p to make and are sold for £3.00 and the staff are paid minimum wage to sell them. Practically every area of feudal capitalism is hallmarked by examples of extreme inequity but none of these downloaders seem at all concerned about it.

They just want the latest U2 CD for free or a download of Revenge of the Sith and they rationalise by saying they're "fighting against the system" whilst never actually taking a stand for anything noble.

CD prices are appalling, and yes, RIAA is a group of morons. But that doesn't justify theft.

What worries me slightly is that my son is now getting ripped DVDs from his friends' parents. Works out well for the industry though - every time he shows up with one I can choose between buying the legit edition or coping with a screaming child who is still too young to understand why this is wrong...

Keep up the good work,


Thank you for a sensible article about music filesharing. While I believe that the RIAA are being very heavy handed with people caught with files that they are offering for download, I just can't see how filesharers think that it's an acceptable thing to do. "Oh I just wanted to try it out before I bought it", "it only harms very big companies", "the music they put out is dreadful bublegum pop tat anyway" seem to be a clarion calls, but it's not the people who are downloading and trying it out who are (in general at least) being prosecuted, it's people offering for upload thousands of files.

I wish the music industry would stop dishing out tens of millions of pounds to dreadful artists such as Robbie Williams or Mariah Carey (who inevitably turn out to be expensive, egotistical embarrassments), when the money dished out to them would have developed tens or hundreds of new bands. I long for the days of the early nineties when the indie labels ruled, maybe that's more to do with being thirtysomething though.


Was the ultimate fine proportionate? Thomas had made just 24 songs available, which as reader M. pointed out was 10,000 times the retail value of each song.The penalty was designed with industrial-scale bootleggers in mind, and a pirate CD facility can knock out thousands of copies an hour.

But the settlement costs of an RIAA lawsuit are actually one hundreth of that, and the chances of being caught remain far lower than for any other illegal activity.

Small wonder P2P file sharing is carrying on as normal. Not paying for art remains terrific value. ®

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