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Thu, Oct 04, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Record firms take anti-piracy fight to court for first time

AP , DULUTH, MINNESOTA

The largest US record companies took their fight against illegal downloads to court for the first time on Tuesday, targeting a woman they say improperly shared nearly 2,000 songs online.

Jennifer Pariser, head of litigation and antipiracy at Sony BMG, portrayed the federal copyright trial as a fight for survival.

"It is imperative for Sony BMG to combat this problem," Pariser, lead attorney for a coalition of music companies, said in her opening statement in the civil trial. "If we don't, we have no business anymore."

Jammie Thomas, a 30-year-old mother of two from Brainerd, Minnesota, told reporters outside the courtroom that she did nothing wrong.

"I do know that I didn't do this, and the jury will hear that I did not do this," she said.

Thomas said that instead of paying a settlement to the six record companies that are suing her, she decided to spend the same amount on her attorney's retainer.

"I refuse to be bullied," she said.

Her attorney, Brian Toder, said Thomas was "in the position of trying to prove some alternative theory when she doesn't know what happened out there."

"We're in the position of trying to prove a negative, and we can't do it," he told the jury.

Later, he said: "You're not going to see evidence that she distributed anything."

The trial was expected to last just a few days.

The record companies accuse Thomas of making 1,702 songs available on her Kazaa file-sharing account in 2005 without permission. They will try to prove Thomas shared 25 specific songs in violation of copyrights the companies hold.

Thomas, who works for the Department of Natural Resources of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, is at risk for a judgment of more than US$1.2 million. The recording association is seeking damages set under federal law, of US$750 to US$30,000 for each copyright violation.

As well as Sony BMG, the companies that sued Thomas are Arista Records LLC, Interscope Records, UMG Recordings Inc, Capitol Records Inc and Warner Bros. Records Inc.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which is not a party to the lawsuit, says record companies have brought more than 26,000 actions against people for downloads that violated copyrights, with most of the defendants settling by paying a few thousand dollars.

The record companies claim that on Feb. 21, 2005, online investigators at SafeNet Inc, found 1,702 files shared under what they said was a Kazaa account being used by Thomas.

"This individual was distributing these audio files for free over the Internet under the username `tereastarr@KaZaA' to potentially millions of other KaZaA users," according to court papers.

Music downloads, both legal and illegal, have dampened sales of recorded music in recent years. In 2001, the industry persuaded a federal judge to shut down Napster.

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