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.