By Moses Avalon

Some of you may have heard that the other day the RIAA won a major victory in court. Although over 20,000 lawsuits have been filed by the RIAA against people who “file share” music, only one, so far, has made it to a court room. Everyone else had the good sense to settle out of court for a few grand.

But, Jammie Thomas, 30, a single mother from Brainerd, says she was wrongfully targeted by SafeNet, the RIAA’s net detective who patrols the internet for illegal file sharing. She found herself a lawyer who thought he could help her beat the rap, Brian Toder. Maybe Toder thought that the public’s sense of disgust with the RIAA would help fuel an acquittal for Jammie. But it didn’t. He should have relied on something far more predictable in determining his client’s chances–basic copyright law.

A jury took less than 5 hours to decide her fate. Result: the single mother will pay about $9000 per song for 24 out of about 1700 songs in question. Not to mention the $60,000 she owes Mr. Toder.

But while the Mom is suffering, only a month ago Toder’s Google factor was only about 2000 links. As of today it’s over 9,000. So there is a happy ending on the defendant’s side of the table after all.

Naturally, the Tech trades have spun this into a mass conspiracy by the record labels to disenfranchise the public, but we know their agenda.

What still gets me scratching my head are the many, many morons, like the ones that can be found on chat rooms who think that this is bad news for the music industry. They are wrong. A public relations black eye is the least of our industry’s worries. Staying alive is the real concern.

Keep in mind something that these people are missing: while technically even downloading one song is illegal, the RIAA doesn’t really care about a song or two. Or even a few dozen. Their radar is designed to catch people who SHARE (read: distribute) many, many songs. (They have a secret threshold that I can not reprint here.) So it’s kind of like that old urban legend about Pot: you can buy it and possess under an ounce, but you can’t sell it–that’s illegal.

Unfortunately, one can not exist without the other. Just as there can be no buyers without a seller, there can be no downloaders without uploaders. And uploaders just took a big pie in the face.

Activity on services like Lime Wire will surely be affected, and I’ll be curious to see what Big Champaign (a company that monitors internet activity) says about all this in six months. My money is that sharing will be down, but only by a small tick.

Now I know there are few tech-savvy people out there saying, “But wait… what about Bittorrent? This will make it impossible to determine who is doing what.”

Bittorrent is a system that takes one song-file and divides it up into many little parts and places each part on a different computer in the network. When you download a song from a sharing service (like Lime Wire) the service is actually connecting many computers and orchestrating each part to you for reassembly. This makes it very hard to trace who is responsible, right?

Wrong! And here’s the bad news.

The RIAA will likely take the position that this makes EVERYONE on a network equally culpable.

If proven a sound legal theory, the RIAA can charge every single person on a sharing network and claim all of them equally liable for each other’s activity. So instead of a single source getting nailed for say, 1000 infringements (which the P2P Hydra can easily survive), they could try to charge everyone with 100s of 1000s of infringements. And that would be a class filled with anyone who has ever participated in an illegal, Bittorrented, P2P model even ONCE. That of course means just about everyone involved with music production.

For ripping free music, the price of poker just went way up.

Moses Avalon

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