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Music-Sharing Conviction Comes with Stiff Penalty

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

To find out what the ruling means for the recording industry and for those who download music online, we turn to Eric Bangeman. He's been covering the trial for the technology Web site Ars Technica.

ERIC BANGEMAN: The recording industry said she logged on to a file-sharing network called Kazaa and that she had entire folder full of MP3 files, and that those files were available for anybody else on the network. And there were, according to the RIAA's exhibits, over two million people logged on at the time that the infringement was detected. And so they, you know, alleged that she was distributing the music to other people for downloading and that she had also downloaded much of the music herself.

NORRIS: So it seems like one of the key questions here is whether she actually distributed the songs or just made them available?

BANGEMAN: Yeah. That's - it might not sound like a big distinction, but it actually is and that was one of the key areas of the case. There's an - and these file-sharing cases, there's been a lot of discussion over whether making a song available on a file-sharing network is the same as distribution under the Copyright Act.

NORRIS: So if we were to draw an analogy with, say, a criminal court, this might be like possession with intent to distribute?

BANGEMAN: Yeah. That's probably a pretty good comparison.

NORRIS: The Recording Industry Association of America has filed more than 20,000 of these lawsuits, trying to get a handle on this copyright piracy. I just want to ask you another question about the plaintiff in this case, Jammie Thomas. Of all the lawsuits that have been filed, this is the only case that's actually gone to trial. Why did she decide to fight this?

BANGEMAN: Well, she said the cost of hiring an attorney for a retainer was pretty much the same as it would have cost her to settle with the RIAA before it goes the trial. The RIAA typically demands a settlement of $3,000 to $4,000 before it's willing to drop a lawsuit. So from her standpoint, it probably seemed like an even trade off. In the wake of the verdict and at $222,000 infringement judgment, she might be having second thoughts about that.

NORRIS: And does this campaign - if we could call it that - continue, are they still filing these lawsuits?

BANGEMAN: Yes, they are. More recently, they've moved towards college campuses, starting to target college students by sending what they call these notification letters to IT administrations at campuses across the country. And I think they've targeted over 50 campuses so far and filed several hundred lawsuits directed primarily at the college students.

NORRIS: With the growth of iTunes and other sites that allow you to actually purchase music by the song or by the album, is there still a lot of piracy going on?

BANGEMAN: Yeah, there is. There is still a fair amount of piracy going on. It's leveled off. And I think part of that is because the record labels have made their online offerings more attractive to consumers. But if they had done this a few years ago and been ahead of the curve instead of way behind it, we probably wouldn't be looking at 20,000 plus lawsuits today.

NORRIS: Eric Bangeman, thanks so much for talking to us.

BANGEMAN: My pleasure.

NORRIS: Eric Bangeman is the managing editor for Ars Technica or the art of technology Web site. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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