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Supreme Court silence seals Thomas-Rasset's file sharing fate

$220,000 slap for 24 songs shared stands

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The Supreme Court has once again declined to hear a file-sharing case appeal, leaving Jammie Thomas-Rasset facing a $220,000 fine for sharing 24 MP3 files nearly a decade ago.

Thomas-Rasset, a Minnesotan single mother of four, was the first person to challenge a legal claim by the Recording Industry Ass. of America back in 2007 and has fought her case (and lost) every step of the way. She now faces bankruptcy as a result.

After her first jury trial in 2007 Thomas-Rasset was found guilty of sharing music on peer-to-peer sites three times, and again on appeal. The fines she has received have varied from $1.92m – a verdict which embarrassed even the plaintiffs – to an offer of settlement if she gave $25,000 to charity.

Thomas-Rasset is at least better off than Joel Tennenbaum, a fellow file-sharer also turned down by the Supreme Court. She only has to pay $9,250 per track compared to his $675,000 fine (or $22,500 per track) for downloading 30 songs when he was 16.

"We appreciate the Court's decision and are pleased that the legal case is finally over. We've been willing to settle this case from day one and remain willing to do so," the RIAA told El Reg in a statement.

Time to move on

So, will it be that the worst nightmares of The IT Crowd writers will come to pass and a mass crackdown commence? Not a bit of it EFF staff attorney told us. There is still a legal process in the lower court to run and there's good reason to think the RIAA might settle this one.

"The RIAA abandoned mass lawsuits years ago, not because the damages were uncertain but because the atmospherics of suing customers were terrible,' he said. "So this won't spur RIAA to do anything, though it may embolden copyright trolls who stepped into RIAA's shoes and have no good reputation to protect."

Trolling over copyright or patent infringement is a huge growth industry, but the RIAA is pinning its hopes on the introduction of its Copyright Alert System (CAS) last month; a technology that the biggest US ISPs have signed up to which enforces a "six strikes" policy on suspected illegal peer-to-peer file sharers.

But the legal arguments have also moved onto new areas. Open wireless networks and the plethora of devices that can now access them have complicated matters and the courts are still trying to work out if you can use an IP address to tag an individual.

All that is rather moot for Thomas-Rasset however.

"There's no way that they can collect," she told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Right now, I get energy assistance because I have four kids. It's just the one income. My husband isn't working. It's not possible for them to collect even if they wanted to. I have no assets." ®

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