Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Richard Marx defends the RIAA's $1.92 million scapegoat

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In a ruling that already is infamous as one of the most wrong-headed in the history of the American judicial system -- not to mention that it will forever stand as the best evidence of the contempt of the old-school music industry toward the music lovers who once were its customers -- Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a divorced mom from Northern Minnesota, was found guilty last week of illegally downloading 24 songs, with a penalty of $80,000 per track and a grand total of $1.92 million.

As someone who fails to see the distinction between analog-taping a song off the radio (which still is legal) and downloading it onto one's hard drive (and the Recording Industry Association of America, the major labels' mafia-like enforcers and trade group, never proved that the defendant shared her files with anyone other than their own digital spy), Thomas-Rasset is guilty primarily of bad taste: Take a look at what those 24 tracks were, as listed by the p2pnet Web site.

I mean, really: Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me"? The Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris"? Journey's "Faithfully"? And Richard Marx's "Now and For Ever"? Ack!

To his credit, however, the Chicago-born and resident-still lite-rocker Marx has issued a strongly worded defense of Thomas-Rasset that is just as much an indictment of the industry that made him famous. It reads:

As a longtime professional songwriter, I have always objected to the practice of illegal downloading of music. I have also always, however, been sympathetic to the average music fan, who has been consistently financially abused by the greedy actions of major labels. These labels, until recently, were responsible for the distribution of the majority of recorded music, and instead of nurturing the industry and doing their best to provide the highest quality of music to the fans, they predominantly chose to ream the consumer and fill their pockets. So now we have a "judgment" in a case of illegal downloading, and it seems to me, especially in these extremely volatile economic times, that holding Ms. Thomas-Rasset accountable for the continuing daily actions of hundreds of thousands of people is, at best, misguided and at worst, farcical. Her accountability itself is not in question, but this show of force posing as judicial come-uppance is clearly abusive. Ms. Thomas-Rasset, I think you got a raw deal, and I'm ashamed to have my name associated with this issue.

It would be nice to see other artists on that list join Marx in defending Thomas-Rasset, though the bigger questions are: What can this woman do now, and what does it mean for the rest of those who download music? As always, the ars-technica Web site has an excellent analysis of the situation, listing the six options open to Thomas-Rasset, from paying the fine to (most music lovers' choice of the best-case scenario) hoping this case becomes the focal point for a charge by Congress and the Obama administration to address the fundamental problems in American copyright laws ignoring the historic changes of the digital world.

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This post feels disingenuous.

* Thomas-Rasset was tried once before, and found liable for $220,000 --- less than a quarter of what her retrial saddled her with.

* By her own admission, she was offered the chance to settle for $5,000.

* In both trials, a focal issue for the jury appears to have been Thomas-Rasset's perceived lack of candor; she maintained that she wasn't responsible for any illicit file sharing, despite apparent overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and her story changed in the second trial.

Should ordinary people engaged in noncommercial file sharing be put on the hook for $1.92MM, $220k, or even $5,000? I don't think so. But you still have an obligation to report the whole story. This case doesn't appear to be about whether Def Leppard MP3s are worth $80,000 to the RIAA, but rather about the consequences of acting slippery in front of a jury.

The sad thing is, Thomas-Rasset's case could have been a real battleground over the insanity of the recording industry's copyright regime. But the manner in which her attorneys seem to have handled te case may make that impossible.


They should have made her pay $.99 per song. Plain and simple... God this "copyright" issue is completely screwed up, where is the government on this one? Showbama and his bunch of hacks should step in somehow.


I'm glad Richard Marx defended her. Not my type of music, but will buy at least one tune on I tunes to show my thanks. Won't have on the Ipod though.
Hopefully the judgement can be reveresed, and the most she should pay is the maximum list value of the record/cd so around $15.OO FOR EACH song.

I have always believed that you should pay for what you download..
these song artists/performers need to be paid --

Thank you much Marx! You also may sue RIAA/Label for breaching contract with you due to the fact they have started very bad public relations with US people. You may try to sell songs/albums directly to people instead of using overcharged monopoly-style service by big four.

Although I agree that this penalty is ridiculous - and I like Jim! - it's worth pointing out that:

-The fine was imposed *by a jury*.
-The RIAA offered to settle - then AND now.
-What she did was "make available," so there's no burden to prove that these files were shared with anyone. You may disagree with this principle, but it's worth pointing out that it is the law.

Again, I'm NOT defending the penalty. But these facts seem more relevant than, say, the fact that she's a divorced mom.

@ Adam

"Showbama and his bunch of hacks should step in somehow."

So now the President should be involved huh?



People will place/fit their political views in anywhere they can.

Let me start by saying there's no question that Thomas-Rasset got a raw deal. There's simply no way to justify $1.9 million in fines. If she had physically shop-lifted two cds (the approx. amount of music she downloaded), she probably would have been fined a few hundred dollars and given probation.

That said, I still can't fathom your defense of illegal downloaders. If you like the music, shell out a few bucks to support the artist, and buy the cd/mp3.

And comparing illegal downloads to taping a song off the radio misconstrues the issues, both legally and practically.

Legally speaking, taping a song off the radio is legal because the artist/radio station have decided to broadcast the music, and by taping it you are merely shifting the time during which you listen to the broadcast. This may sound like splitting hairs, but there are some key differences. First, you don't get to choose what's broadcast, unlike downloading where you can access virtually the entire catalog of recorded music from the last 60 years with the click of a button. Second, you don't have a right to distribute or sell radio recordings, whereas illegal downloads which are regularly re-distributed.

Practically speaking, there's a huge difference between cassette radio recordings and illegal downloads.

First, the quality of radio recordings stinks. You are limited by both the quality of broadcast radio, as well as cassettes (which tend to wear out pretty quickly); unlike MP3's which are near-cd quality, or .wavs which are cd quality.

Second, the radio recording often has dj voiceovers during a portion of the song; a subsequent song mixed in the tail end; and in some cases the song is edited for radio. As a result, your typically not receiving the full song as the artist intended.

Third, as mentioned above, illegal downloading has granted instant access to millions of recordings. If I want access to the entire Black Flag catalog, I could sit by my radio all day, finger standing at attention on the record button, and all I'm going to get is starvation and cramps (and not the one with Lux Interior).

Fourth and last, there's a big difference between the distribution networks of cassettes and downloads. Sure people shared and copied cassettes, but it could only go so far. Eventually, a copy of a copy of a copy just sounds like crap. Digital copies can spread rapidly, without degradation, and anonomously.

Anyway, just go out and support your favorite musicians. If you're afraid that you might not like the album without listending to it first, take the leap anyway. You'll find that the best discoveries are often surprises and/or ones where you actually have a vested interest (i.e. you spent some money). Free/illegal downloading is making music disposable, and that's most certainly a bad thing.

End rant.

>>>Rob: This was a follow-up post about the Marx statement, not a first-day news story, so there was a lot of information excluded.

You're right, and I apologize. What I said wasn't fair.

However, I think the jury imposed a large penalty for a reason: They didn't believe a word she said. We're talking about someone who said she thought someone hacked into her wireless network when *she does not have a wireless network.*

The record companies did not move with the times.the list price on CD"S are too is much cheaper than 20 yrs ago.they would have too bust millions of people if that is the case.if the artists were treated more as partners and worked out a better deal on both ends they could sell and promote their product@ a lower price with better marketing for consumers.i know even people in the BIZ download.its not a bad way for artists to show their wares.offer better pricing i still by stuff by artists i like.

I would imagine that had she downloaded Richard Marx songs, the jury might have ordered him to pay her for listening to that CR*P.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on June 23, 2009 9:49 AM.

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