(Source: Flickr)

The U.S. Justice Department has ruled that a $1.92M USD fine leveled against Jammie Thomas-Rassert for sharing 24 songs is perfectly legal. The fine, more than Ms. Thommas-Rassert will likely make in her career, is a sweet victory for the RIAA. Perhaps Ms. Thomas-Rassert should have instead shoplifted two CDs -- that would have only earned her a $400 fine (approximately 1/5000th of her current fine).  (Source: Cyberpunk Review)
The government gives the RIAA the green light to sue its citizens out of house and home -- if they fileshare

Many balked at the gargantuan fine leveled upon Jammie Thomas-Rassert.  Beaten by the music industry copyright protection organization, the RIAA, a jury of her peers handed the working woman an incredible fine of $1.92M USD; one that she likely will not be able to pay off during her working career.  Her financial future has essentially been ruined due to two key decisions -- first deciding to download and share the tracks, and second, standing up to the RIAA, rather than settling.

To put the fine in context, if she had stolen two CDs (which might even have added a few extra tracks) and got caught, she likely would have paid $1,000 or less.  For example in Los Angeles, California, the fine for petty shoplifting goes up to $400 at maximum.  In both a shoplifting case and the P2P trial, the intent to steal (and possibly share with friends) is very evident.  However, the RIAA argues that the extra damage done by passing on the stolen good justifies inflating the fine nearly 5,000-fold.  Even considering the tracks she stole were representative of a larger undocumented shared library (which is likely true in the case of the shoplifter -- most have stolen before, prior to their arrest), the fine is impressive.

Many speculated that the fine would be found to be unconstitutionally excessive.  However, Obama administration officials with the U.S. Department of Justice ruled last Friday that the $1.92M USD fine against its citizen was perfectly legal and okay.

The government's endorsement of the RIAA's excessive tactics has many legal, political, and tech bloggers appalled.  Writes Mike Masnick of TechDirt, "The reasoning is quite troubling and appears to include some serious revisionist history. ... The brief claims the awards are perfectly constitutional. ... Really? It seems that an awful lot of people find the idea of being forced to hand over $80,000 per song without any evidence ... is severe ... oppressive ... disproportionate ... obviously unreasonable."

Adds RecordingIndustryVsPeople blogger Ray Beckerman, "The US Department of Justice (a) continues to debase itself by misstating the law in its unseemly haste to provide cover for the RIAA, and (b) sinks to a new level of debasement by arguing that an award of 228,000 times the actual damages satisfies due process standards. Its awareness of the frivolousness of its constitutional argument is betrayed by its urging the Judge to reach the same result."

All indications are that the Jammie Thomas-Rassert is just the first of many massive fines to come.  Earlier this month graduate student Joel Tenenbaum was fined $675,000 USD by a separate RIAA jury case.

Given the extreme nature of these cases and their profile, it seems likely that sufficient legal financing will be levied to push them up into the U.S. Supreme Court.  However, cases often sit for years before being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court -- and it's not outside the realm of possibility that the Supreme Court could decline to review them altogether.  Unless at some point the Supreme Court indeed steps in, the U.S. has entered a new era -- one in which the government has given copyright protection organizations the green light to sue its citizens out of house and home -- if they fileshare.

And when combined with other recent rulings -- such as the ruling in Federal Court shutting down RealNetworks, and essentially lending judicial approval to the the Digital Copyright Millennium Act's ban on individuals making copies of content they legally own, if the content comes with copyright protection technology -- the picture becomes even more stark.  It appears that the government is increasingly giving the RIAA and MPAA free reign to dictate what is legal and what punishments are fair for U.S. citizens.  And that's happy news for the copyright protection organizations, as they're more than happy to play judge, jury, and executioner.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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