With hope at last bubbling up in the Pussy Riot debacle, perhaps it’s time for a new cause: “Free Jammie Thomas-Rasset!” It doesn’t exactly roll off of the tongue — actually, come to think of it: “We Be Jammie!” — but if people started mobilizing behind the Minnesota mother of four who’s been battling the RIAA in court for five years now, there’s a slim chance she won’t have to pay $222,000 for sharing 24 songs on Kazaa in 2006.
Yes, $222,000. That’s the exact amount that the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has decided is perfectly fair to charge a human being for distributing a handful of data packets that contained neither state secrets nor illicit content. The Recording Industry Association of America has been winning judgements against Thomas-Rasset, who has maintained she wasn’t the computer user who did the sharing, since 2007; Thomas-Rasset keeps appealing. The RIAA is suing on behalf of massive major labels, including Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and, as Reuters points out, Arista. But Arista folded last year, so perhaps we’ve misjudged Thomas-Rasset — she’s keeping the case alive until the plaintiffs are all dead. Diabolical!
Underscoring the ridiculousness here is the fact that the amount the defendant owes changes every time she steps into court. Everyone can agree she’s guilty of something — which may just be allowing her kids to use her computer — but no one can settle on a number. First it was $222K, then $1.9M, then $54K, then $1.5M, then $54K again and now we’re back at the opening amount, which equals $9,250 per song. In 2010, the RIAA offered Thomas-Rasset a compromise: end the legal nightmare for $25,000 and an admission of guilt. Thomas-Rasset declined
But really, when you consider the songs that were shared, it’s a bargain. “Cryin'” by Aerosmith, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard, “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey — classics every one, rounded out by a smattering of fresh entries like “Hella Good” by No Doubt, “One Step Closer” by Linkin Park, and “Basket Case” by Green Day. And by the way, Green Day are all over the Pussy Riot cause.