The recording industry scored its biggest anti-piracy victory yesterday when a federal jury in Minnesota ordered a 30 year old single mother of two, Jammie Thomas, to pay $222,000 for copyright infringement. Thomas, who took the case to trial rather settle with the RIAA (and was the first to do so), was found guilty of sharing 24 songs on Kazaa, the online file sharing service founded by the "Skype guys," Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom, who also are behind the hot new Internet TV site Joost. Zennstrom has had a tough week, as he "stepped down" as CEO of Skype earlier this week when eBay announced its $1.43 billion write-down of that asset.
The RIAA was ebullient with its court victory, but Thomas is not necessarily the best PR poster child for its continuing efforts to track down and prosecute illegal file swappers. The labels already face the wrath of many, and this six figure verdict against a single mother of two who works on an Indian reservation is not necessarily going to improve their image.
As an aside, during my days at Musicmatch, the record labels had always thought of Kazaa as being nothing more than a site that fostered illegal file sharing -- and, in many ways they were right. It is a rather remarkable turn-of-events, then, that those behind Kazaa are now considered to be near royalty by the same media community in connection with their new Joost venture.
Their remarkable transformation: at first, they were outlaws with Kazaa (and would not even enter the United States) -- disrupting the music distribution business without any anti-piracy safeguards whatsoever; then, they were revolutionaries, disrupting the telecommunications industry with Skype; and now, they are media darlings, hoping to disrupt the content distribution world via social networking and the Internet (this time, via licensed content deals).