This is exactly how I felt after I saw “The Empire Strikes Back.” Luke stood there, flexing his newly robotic hand and watching Lando fly away in the Millennium Falcon and all I could think was, “How could this happen? Evil’s not supposed to win! Good is supposed to triumph! Everything’s upside down!”
It’s my earliest memory of a true sense of injustice. The thought that sometimes, unfair things actually do happen and bad trumps good.
I’m struggling with that feeling again, thanks to the decision tendered in the Capitol Records v. Jammie Thomas case early last month.
Capitol, backed by the Recording Industry Association of America, filed suit against Ms. Thomas because she refused to be bullied by their settlement offer. Much like the 20,000-some-odd other supposed file-sharing “thieves” the RIAA has been hunting, Thomas was told to pony up a few thousand dollars for allegedly allowing other users on the KaZaa network access to her music library. Hers was the first such case known to go to trial. Most folks see the RIAA marching toward them with its cadre of lawyers and cower in fear. Not Jammie Thomas.
Nope, the single mother of two who spends hundreds of dollars a year on CDs decided to stand up for herself and face the onslaught.
The price she now has to pay? $222,000. For sharing 24 tunes. That amounts to $9,250 per song. Talk about the punishment not fitting the crime.
Thomas’ lawyer, Brian Toder, pledged an appeal, and this one is an important enough precedent that it will likely make the climb to the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, Thomas’ supporters have set up the website www.freejammie.com where people can donate to her legal defense fund. As of press time, she has raised a grand total of $15,828.
The fact is, the whole battle the RIAA honchos are waging is academic. They are awash in a digital music typhoon, and they’re bailing water with a Dixie cup. They’ve already acknowledged that it costs more money to file the lawsuits and seek damages from supposed music pirates than what they’re collecting.
The concept of fair use suffered a huge blow during the court battle when Sony-BMG head litigator Jennifer Pariser stated, “When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song,” admitting into record that someone who buys a CD can’t even rip it to his iPod. That mix tape you made for your girlfriend in high school? A felony.
The only thing that’s going to fix this is if the artists themselves start an end-around. Take Radiohead, for example. The band is allowing the public to download its new album “Rainbows” from its website. The cost? Whatever the downloader chooses to pay. That’s right. You can go to www.radiohead.com and pick your price. It’s in British pounds, but you can figure it out. I settled on about $10.
If this doesn’t put the fear of God into the RIAA, then nothing will.