Duluth is battleground for fight over music downloading

(AP) The nation's largest record companies took their fight against illegal downloads to court for the first time Tuesday, targeting a Minnesota woman they say improperly shared nearly 2,000 songs online.

Jennifer Pariser, head of litigation and antipiracy at Sony BMG, portrayed the federal copyright trial as a fight for survival.

"It is imperative for Sony BMG to combat this problem," Pariser, lead attorney for a coalition of music companies, said in her opening statement in the civil trial. "If we don't, we have no business anymore."

Jammie Thomas, a 30-year-old mother of two from Brainerd, Minn., told reporters outside the courtroom that she did nothing wrong. "I do know that I didn't do this, and the jury will hear that I did not do this," she said.

Thomas said that instead of paying a settlement to the six record companies that sued her she chose to spend the same amount on her attorney's retainer.

"I refuse to be bullied," she said.

Her attorney, Brian Toder, said Thomas was "in the position of trying to prove some alternative theory when she doesn't know what happened out there."

"We're in the position of trying to prove a negative, and we can't do it," he told the jury. Later, he said: "You're not going to see evidence that she distributed anything."

The trial was expected to last just a few days.

The file-sharing programs that emerged to take Napster's place point users to files available on a variety of computers and servers, instead of leading to files in a single location.

But the sharing programs' impact has been the same: Millions of songs are being downloaded for free instead of purchased legally.

The recording industry began naming individual file-sharing users in September 2003. The industry group says the lawsuits have mitigated illegal sharing, even though music file-sharing is rising overall. The group says the number of households that have used file-sharing programs to download music has risen from 6.9 million in April 2003 (before the lawsuits) to 7.8 million in March 2007.

Thomas's 12-member jury includes an amateur musician and several people who have paid to download music from legally sanctioned sites. The musician, who works as an English teacher in Mora, Minn., found himself answering extra questions from the record company attorneys during jury selection.

They seemed satisfied after he said, "I personally never downloaded music illegally. I've paid for everything I've downloaded."

One prospective juror who acknowledged using a file-sharing program to download music a few years ago was dismissed from the jury pool.

A few jurors said they knew little about the Internet, much less music downloads.

"I am the computer illiterate in the family," one juror said.

There have been no claims that Thomas's two children, ages 11 and 13, were involved in sharing music.