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Brainerd woman loses music download case

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  (AP) - The recording industry won a key fight Thursday against illegal music downloading when a federal jury found a Minnesota woman liable for damages for sharing copyrighted music online.

      Jurors ordered Jammie Thomas, 30, to pay record companies $220,000 - or $9,250 for each of 24 songs for which the companies sought damages. They could have awarded damages as low as $750 per song.

      Thomas and her attorney, Brian Toder, declined comment as they left the courthouse.

      In the first such lawsuit to go to trial, six record companies accused Thomas, 30, of Brainerd, of offering 1,702 songs online through a Kazaa file-sharing account. Thomas had denied wrongdoing and during the trial testified that she didn't have a Kazaa account.

      Record companies have filed some 26,000 lawsuits since 2003 over file-sharing, which has hurt sales because it allows people to get music for free instead of paying for recordings in stores. Many other defendants have settled by paying the companies a few thousand dollars.

      During the three-day trial, record companies presented evidence they said showed the copyrighted songs were offered by a Kazaa user under the name "tereastarr." 

Their witnesses, including officials from an Internet provider and a security firm, testified that the Internet address used by "tereastarr" belonged to Thomas.

      Toder had argued at closing that record companies never proved that "Jammie Thomas, a human being, got on her keyboard and sent out these things."

      "We don't know what happened," Toder told jurors. "All we know is that Jammie Thomas didn't do this."

      Richard Gabriel, the industry's lead attorney, called that defense "misdirection, red herrings, smoke and mirrors." And he asked jurors to find Thomas liable to send a message to other illegal downloaders.

      "I only ask that you consider that the need for deterrence here is great," he said.

      Copyright law sets a damage range of $750 to $30,000 per infringement, or up to $150,000 if the violation was "willful." Jurors ruled that Thomas' infringement was willful, but awarded damages in a middle range.

      Before the verdict, an official with an industry trade group said he was surprised it took so long for such a lawsuit to come to trial.

      Illegal downloads have "become business as usual, nobody really thinks about it," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, which coordinates the lawsuits. "This case has put it back in the news. Win or lose, people will understand that we are out there trying to protect our rights."

      Though Thomas denied wrongdoing, her testimony was complicated by the fact that she had replaced her computer's hard drive after the sharing was alleged to have taken place -- and later than she said in a deposition before trial.

      The hard drive in question was not presented at trial by either party, though Thomas used her new one to show the jury how fast it copies songs from CDs. 

That was an effort to counter an industry witness's assertion that the songs on the old drive got there too fast to have come from CDs she owned -- and therefore must have been downloaded illegally.

      Record companies said Thomas was sent an instant message in February 2005, warning her that she was violating copyright law. Her hard drive was replaced the following month, not in 2004, as she said in the deposition.

      The record companies involved in the lawsuit are Sony BMG, Arista Records LLC, Interscope Records, UMG Recordings Inc., Capitol Records Inc. and Warner Bros. Records Inc.       

                    (Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)