As you may already know, convicted digital pirate Jammie Thomas-Rasset has been ordered to pay $80,000 per illegally downloaded song for a total of 1.9 million dollars. This has become a landmark case because Jammie, a single mother from Minnesota, is not exactly a hardened criminal. See a news article here.
Clearly this case is setting the precedent for later digital piracy trials. But even clearer is the ridiculousness of this fine: 80,000 times higher than she would have paid for these songs on iTunes.
Now I’m definitely not arguing that digital piracy should be legal and I don’t wear Pirate Bay t-shirts. Stealing another’s intellectual property should be a crime because it violates the licensing of that property, it’s all very simple. However any fines for individuals who violate these licenses need to be more in line with the damage they have caused. Does downloading 24 Justin Timberlake tracks really cost the record industry $80,000 each time?
Furthermore, I understand the need for a punitive aspect of these fines, and I don’t think you should only be fined $1 per song just because that’s what they would cost on iTunes. The fine needs to be higher than the cost to discourage violation. But this obscenely high verdict has led me to two fairly obvious conclusions.
The first is that Jammie Thomas-Rasset is being used as an example to discourage a crime that is very difficult to prosecute (except for Comcast users). However, the United States is supposed to have a fair and just legal system and I do not think any such system should ever make an example out of any individual. It is incredibly unfair to fine this poor woman $1.9 million in order to make a point to the entirety of US citizens.
But my second conclusion is far more serious. Jammie’s case proves that the system of government in the United States has become so inundated with corporate lobbyists that it is no longer a government that represents its people. It has become a government of the dollar, for the dollar and by the dollar.
Let’s take Barack Obama as an example. Obama’s main platform was one of change: he was elected mainly on the belief that his presidency would no longer be ‘politics as usual’ in the US. But once in office Barack appointed five RIAA lawyers to the Department of Justice. Can anyone argue that this is at all representative of the people?
Appointing not one but five lawyers from a single corporate interest flies blatantly in the face of the ideals the United States was founded upon. And we’re not talking about just any corporate interest here, this is the Recording Industry Association of America, one of the most notoriously greedy organizations around, stomping over artists and consumers for over 50 years.
I never thought Jammie Thomas-Rasset would actually be charged this ridiculous fine. And I naively believed that people in this country had begun to realize that the RIAA’s complaints about digital piracy stemmed from an immeasurable greed. All the commercials they aired about illegal downloading seemed so ridiculous, like they were clutching at straws. But it looks like the RIAA is winning, which can mean nothing other than that the American people are losing.