Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Brother, can you spare nineteen million dimes?

I know I'm late writing about this three-week-old story, but here it is:
Jammie Thomas-Rasset has lost her case against the record industry. She's been ordered to pay them (record companies, not artists) $1.92M for the 24 songs she downloaded. $80K per song. I understand. She broke the law (or a jury found that she did, anyway). Here's my question: If those same songs are for sale for $1 a piece at the iTunes store, how is eighty grand even remotely commensurate with the offense she committed? She sought no profit from her actions, as noted in the original ruling from Judge Michael Davis, declaring her first trial a mistrial and noting that the original award of $222,000 was more than five hundred times the cost of buying each of the songs on individual CDs. Read the ruling here (specifically, section K: Need for Congressional Action, from the bottom of page 40 through page 42).
I guess my real beef with this case is that it is the record companies that are suing. I personally don't think anything is wrong with enjoying music for free if one is not seeking any personal gain beyond the good feeling one gets while listening to it. The New York Times Magazine this week has a really great brief interview with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco that touches on this subject. Deborah Solomon asked Tweedy about the decision to voluntarily stream Wilco's new album online for free after the tracks had surfaced illegally on the internet in May. Tweedy responded with what I think is a great mantra against anti-piracy laws:
"As a musician, I don’t want to expend any energy whatsoever preventing people from hearing our music. I think that’s antithetical to the idea of making it. Yes, we streamed it. Basically we set it up so people who felt guilty about stealing our music could donate some money to our favorite charity." (It's a great Q&A... take a look at it here.)
I agree. No artist should ever expend energy preventing people from experiencing his or her art. I would even take it one step further and say that the record companies, in suing for their own financial interests in the music, have betrayed their commitment to the artists. If someone hears for free a good song by a group or artist they are unfamiliar with, they are that much more likely to go out and seek more from that artist - becoming a fan and a regular purchaser of albums and concert tickets. Punishing Jammie Thomas-Rassett for downloading these songs with a judgment that will likely financially cripple her for the rest of her life serves no good for the artists promoted by the industry.
One final note: I was curious, so I wikipedia'd the Capitol v. Thomas case, and found out what the actual 24 songs were... I think of all the indignities this poor woman has endured, by far the worst might be that she is now liable for almost two million dollars for this particular playlist:

Aerosmith "Cryin'"
Bryan Adams "Somebody"
Def Leppard "Pour Some Sugar on Me"
Destiny’s Child "Bills, Bills, Bills"
Gloria Estefan "Here We Are"; "Coming Out of the Dark"; "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You"
Goo Goo Dolls "Iris"
Green Day "Basket Case"
Guns N' Roses "Welcome to the Jungle"; "November Rain"
Janet Jackson "Let's Wait Awhile"
Journey "Faithfully"; "Don't Stop Believing"
Linkin Park "One Step Closer"
No Doubt "Bathwater"; "Hella Good"; "Different People"
Reba McEntire "One Honest Heart"
Richard Marx "Now and Forever"
Sarah McLachlan "Possession"; "Building a Mystery"
Sheryl Crow "Run Baby Run"
Vanessa L. Williams "Save the Best for Last"

I don't want to judge, but that's what one does in a trial situation. With a couple of exceptions for the classics on the list (see lines 8 and 10), I'd say this list is worth all of 38 cents and an MTC bus transfer.


  1. Agreed on the price of the list. Seriously. Ew.

  2. P.S. I'm totally with you on the record company gain angle. Sickening. Also, Wilco rocks.