Obama Administration Sides With Music Industry In Seeking To Uphold Draconian Award Against Minnesota Mother For Sharing Songs

PresObamaWe have previously discussed how President Obama has repeatedly yielded to the “copyright hawks” who have steadily increased the penalties for copyright and trademark violations, including criminal penalties. Despite the abuse of average citizens by thuggish law firms and prosecutors, the Obama Administration continues to support draconian measures against citizens. Even after the abuse and death of Aaron Swartz by the Justice Department, the Obama Administration has decided to double down in a case of a young mother in Northern Minnesota who was hit with grotesque penalties for simply sharing 24 songs. She was told to pay $222,000 — over 100 times the actual damages for the songs. The Obama Administration has intervened before the Supreme Court to ask for it to allow the penalty to stand as lawful and correct.

The Administration has joined these companies in pummeling Jammie Thomas-Rasset for sharing music through the peer-to-peer network Kazaa. She has been fighting for years and put through two trials. Huge awards were thrown out by the court but the industry continued to make her an example by ruining her. Last year, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the $222,000 award. Rather than agree that such penalties are outrageous and seek the protection of average citizens in the courts or in Congress, the Obama Administration has done precisely what is demanded by industry lobbyists and lawyers.

What is striking is that these damages are not treated as punitive but statutory damages. The Supreme Court has previously struck down the awarding of punitive damages to citizens suing companies as unconstitutional. These cases like Gore v. BMW involved punitive damages greater than a 10 to 1 ratio to compensatory damages. They were found to run afoul of due process. In the Gore decision, the court wrote that “the most important indicium of the reasonableness of a punitive damages award is the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct.” Gore, 517 U.S. at 575, 116 S.Ct. at 1599. “This principle reflects the accepted view that some wrongs are more blameworthy than others.” Id.

The Obama Administration clearly does not believe that standard applies to people like Thomas-Rasset or Swartz. It precisely sided with the companies in the case and said the award was not excessive. While judges have decried these penalties as absurd, the White House continues to argue for the penalties to be enforced. The question is whether this Supreme Court will feel as much sympathy toward individual citizens in statutory penalty cases as did has repeatedly for companies in punitive damage cases.

The Obama Administration argued that awards can be disproportionate but that this is not such an award. It felt that the case really speaks to the poor company lawyers and shareholders who are put at an unfair disadvantage by citizens like Thomas-Rasset: “The public interest cannot be realized if the inherent difficulty of proving actual damages leaves the copyright holder without an effective remedy for infringement.” Without an effective remedy? The portrayal of these companies as helpless victims is a bit much . . . but not too much for the White House.

Source: Rolling Stone

42 thoughts on “Obama Administration Sides With Music Industry In Seeking To Uphold Draconian Award Against Minnesota Mother For Sharing Songs”

  1. President Obama….Man of the People….Establishment People….Rich People….Corporate People…. The rest of you people may be excused. You are of no further use.

  2. What jury awareded these vampires of a record company this money? Seriously what is wrong with some people on juries?

  3. Obviously the narrower the field of discussion, the more data and info we get. For me it is better reading than a listing of precedents.

    But then people are different.

    EBK, wow the moolah that you have. Hope you recovered 75 cents on the dollar in selling the older generations.

    AWS sounds interesting. All you need for a solist is a sound-dampened room and by punching some buttons you can add Carnegie Hall or your choice of ´recording”environments. Just have to coordinate the different music instrument channels. Etc, etc etc. And there is a built in Wizard which will act producent in different styles, etc.

  4. Darren, There is suposed to be a new label from the FBI: “The label will replace the old variety of labels already shown in most of the media products and will also be significantly more visible on the product cover. The new warning says “The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.” ”


    This may replace the old, long statement or may just be a supplemental label for the covers. The info regarding reproduction and distribution being illegal is the same as the old language though, the monetary gain statement is new.

    I think the “unauthorized reproduction or distribution” language would have tripped you up regarding the shared purchase scheme. No copyright holder or licensed manufacturer is going to authorize reproduction and distribution of their property based on a shared purchase arrangement. I give you props for creativity though; innovative thinking is what makes this nation great. 🙂

    I went looking for a schoolbook recently and was astounded at the price of it both in hard copy and digital form. There was a digital lease price also but it was outrageous as well. Things sure haven’t changed on the textbook front in the last 40-odd years.

  5. You can always trust Obama to stand up for the little guy, not. Big corporations use the courts to destroy people but people can’t even get a hearing when a big corporation defrauds them, steals their pension or poisons them with a dangerous drug. Perverted justice.

  6. While I think the financial penalties of this particular case are exorbitant, I also have little sympathy for Jammie Thomas-Rasset. Here’s why:

    My current digital audio workstation (DAW) cost a whopping $300.00. The one before that cost $12,000.00, and the one before that cost $52,000.00, and that one replaced about $650,000.00 worth of gear (all purchase costs). So what’s the problem?

    Add it up.

    This is not even talking about quality instruments, (somewhere around $126,000.00 at today’s prices if I’m in a good mood), microphones, (jeez, I have two mics I could sell at the drop of a hat for $12,000.00 apiece, not to mention the many “less valuable” ones), microphone preamps/compressors, etc., (gosh, probably $24,000.00 sitting there).

    And then silly things like quality patchbays, racks to hold everything, interconnect (wire — wired properly — and quality connectors and patch cords), power amps, speakers (not your mom’s) so all this great calibrated stuff works when you want it to — and after all that a few rooms where it makes sense to house and use this “stuff.”

    Allowing and even encouraging fans to make live recordings of performances, like the Dead did — and that’s all the Dead did — or even more recently Dave Matthews, is not the same thing as ripping CDs and making it available to the world.

    Yes, I know that Jammie Thomas-Rasset didn’t rip the CDs she is accused of distributing, but that it’s the Kazaa distribution that is the issue. Splitting hairs is never a pretty thing.

    There is no doubt that the established top-bottom feeders in the music industry are holding onto a failing business model — this is readily apparent.

    However, “consumers” have little regard for the expense of time — as spent in recording/mixing/mastering, and I won’t mention learning how to write, play, and produce proficiently — nor the financial cost of creating something (see above) that even with excellent DAWs so cheap that pulling it all together is not a casual pursuit.

    Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a dead end. Sony learned this years ago with their rootkit in attempting to control copying to other devices within ones physical control. May DRM crash and burn, which it is.

    Until then, one can buy a head of lettuce in North Dakota in February cheaper than buying a song — what a burden of choice for the consumer.

  7. LottaKatz.

    When i was in college, the number one most hated place on campus was the school bookstore. The bookstore was run by some contracting agent and the prices for books was outrageous, one of the books I had was $90 (1986 prices) When you made $3.40 an hour it was awful. When they bought back used books they gave rock bottom prices and charged about 75% of what a new book cost

    Anyway the students were so angered they formed their own bookstore for used books. Several students also got together and bought 1 book between themselves and photocopied every page with each person making a copy for himself to use in his own study of a book that he legally owned as a partial owner. They considered it legal because they felt that fair use allowed a person to copy a book they own for the purposes of their own study.

    I wonder if the same thing can be done for music. If a music CD cost 20 dollars and 2000 persons contributed 1 cent to purchase the CD and each person then made a copy of this for themselves it could be considered fair use.

  8. The gov’t is not a party to this dispute and should stay out of it. In my book they have as much standing to be involved as getting between two sisters disputing a probate issue. None.

    And yes, the recording indistry in my opinion acts like a bunch of thugs. Maybe if they actually went out and found talented singers they might make some money.

    Then again, about the gov’t it seems they care less and less about the rights of the individual.

  9. I am the guy that the Dogpac calls The Dog Biscuit Guy. I try to maintain their communication system. They call it the Dogalogue Machine. These dogs are really a lot smarter than you might know from their comments on this blog. They try to dumb down things when talking to humans. I try to encourage them to speak their real minds but they prefer to keep things quaint and dog-like. HumpinDog for example was a human in a prior life and was a medical doctor. itchinBayDog was a talk show host on some tv channel in Minneapolis in her prior life. So please dont think of them as a bunch of dogs. Well, they are dogs. But please realize that they are intelligent and see things from a different perspective. The Dogalogue Machine is undergoing some repair. You have a respite from dog talk. Or bark. For awhile. Woof.

  10. correction to reply to Indigo Jones.

    “I doubt that making a copy” sb “I have no doubt”, sorry.

  11. Mahtso: “I see at Wikipedia that Ms. Thomas-Rasset turned down settlement offers of $25,000 which is $7,000 more than the statutory minimum penalty.”

    These prosecutions are the commercial equivalent of the criminal law ‘plea bargain’ and all but a handful of cases are settled for payments of a few thousand dollars a song. If you don’t take the deal you end up (possibly)in jail and certainly bankrupt. Big media doesn’t even have to search out violators, law firms that act as copyright vultures ferret them out and bring suit independently and/or tip off the relevant corporation and everybody makes money. That’s what my reading reveals anyway. It’s a big business.

  12. Indigo Jones:

    “This is why the industry is so keen on DRM — it seeks to prevent copying, and thus, illegal re-distribution, at the source, though this also prevents people from “owning” their “purchases” and hinders criticism, re-use of certain materials in an academic ccontext, and certain artistic practices as well.”

    “The cloud” is marketed as convenient, but by ensuring that nobody “owns” their own stuff — and by requiring that anybody who wants to access “their” data purchase internet access indefinitely — the result is to turn everybody into the digitial equivalents of teneant farmers.”

    You’re absolutely right. There is something on the horizon though that goes much farther, UltraViolet. It’s a practice which allows one to buy/rent content and share it among a group of listed devices and persons for a fixed number of times and at a fixed price. One can buy a DVD of a movie stored on a cloud, get a hard copy of it for added fees (currently) or make a copy of it (currently) for yourself and then view it and share it. Notice all of hose ad for cable TV that allow you to play the content on up to x number of DVR devices? Sounds good, no?

    There is currently no prohibition against signatories to this new entertainment system from changing their terms of service to up prices or restrict options after the first iteration of the contract nor from dropping services like acquiring or making a personal copy, nor from charging whatever they choose for each play after the initial terms regrading time has expired or if one wants to change ones list of devices or the designated share list.

    I see this as the new business model. At some time in the future all commercially produced media will be marketed in this way (Movies, music, books, periodicals, etc. and the consumer will be the lessor. I doubt that making a copy will fall by the wayside pretty quickly after a certain level of market saturation has been achieved.

    The FAC is revelatory and the model is in play.

    UltraViolet FAQ:

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