I've followed the story of the RIAA/Jammie Thomas trial and recent decision awarding $220,000 to the record companies with mild interest. I'm not into file sharing myself, and I don't agree with the pirates who push files across the internet at all -- but I do sympathize with her plight of having to pay off that huge fine.
One of Jammie's points in her defense against the charge that she 'stole' thousands of songs via file-sharing service Kazaa is her claim that her IP address was "spoofed," a process whereby a web server's tracking log is tricked into believing that a visitor came from one particular location when in fact they came from a different location.
The IP address is damning evidence, and it was the unique IP internet address of his Gulf Breeze, Florida home computer that was used to identify John David Roy Atchinson as the person who was chatting online with undercover sex sting agents in his celebrated case. Of course, having Atchison actually arrive in Detroit with hoop earrings and a doll provided more conclusive proof of his intent to make contact with what he thought was a five year-old girl.
In Jammie's case Michael Hegg, a juror who was interviewed in WIRED magazine, made the statement that he didn't believe Thomas's claim that her IP address had been spoofed:
During a 45-minute telephone interview, Hegg said jurors found that Thomas' defense -- that she was the victim of a spoof -- was unbelievable. "She should have settled out of court for a few thousand dollars," Hegg said. "Spoofing? We're thinking, 'Oh my God, you got to be kidding.' She's a liar."
She may well have been lying - after all, even though it is technically possible to spoof her IP address, why would somebody bother? What would be their motive?
Nonetheless, Thomas intends to appeal, and I suspect this may be a case that goes all the way to the Supreme Court - not on its merits, but fueled by donations from the file-sharing community and others supportive of Thomas. And in gathering that support Thomas is pointing to statements made by Hegg in that same WIRED interview as an indication that she has grounds for appeal:
Hegg, a married father of two who said he formerly raced snowmobiles, said he has never been on the internet. He said his wife is an administrator at a local hospital and an "internet guru."
If Hegg followed the judge's instructions then he didn't discuss this case with his 'internet guru' wife, so that's moot. What Thomas hopes isn't moot is Hegg's own admission that he's 'never been on the internet':
"I don't need to say too much, obviously," Thomas told CNET News.com on Wednesday. "They admit that they are computer illiterate. This person (Hegg) has never been on the Internet, so how can he say whether my story is possible? I've been contacted by Internet security experts who said that spoofing my address would have been trivial. Internet illiterate people are not going to be able to understand that."
Again I ask what someone's motive would be to spoof her address and frame her? Just because it's technically possible to do this, who would bother? and for what gain?
Is there a new conspiracy theory behind the RIAA's pursuit of file-sharing pirates suggesting they're out to win big jury awards? In all of the cases prior to this one the defendants have settled out of court for a few thousand dollars, so it's clear that if the RIAA is typically willing to settle for such relatively small amounts that don't even cover a fraction of their cost in pursuing these cases, they aren't driven by a profit motive of some sort.
Or is this, as I strongly suspect, just an effort by Thomas to milk her 15 minutes of fame and get as much financial support as possible? That really seems to be the case in this instance. Let's go back to Hegg's interview:
The jury, he said, was convinced that Thomas was a pirate after hearing evidence that the Kazaa account RIAA investigators were monitoring matched Thomas' internet protocol and modem addresses.
Expert testimony from an RIAA witness also showed that a wireless router was not used, casting doubt on her defense that a hacker lurking outside her apartment window with a laptop might have framed her, he said.
Hegg pointed out that Thomas' Kazaa account username was "Tereastarr" -- the same username Thomas chose for her e-mail, online shopping, online dating and MySpace accounts.
While Thomas may argue that since Hegg is not internet literate he's not qualified to decide in this case, it appears that there was ample expert testimony to help him and his fellow jurors - the same kind of expert testimony jurors rely on in medical malpractice cases. How many juror in those cases are actually qualified to make judgments about medical matters without relying on the testimony of experts?
And Thomas also points to another of Hegg's statements as further grounds for an appeal:
Thomas also was disappointed that the jury may have been punishing her for crimes committed by others.
"We wanted to send a message," Hegg said in the Wired interview, "that you don't do this, that you have been warned."
Thomas doesn't believe the law allows that.
The jury "saw those feeds that showed 2 million people shared using (file-sharing service) Kazaa and they want to hold me responsible for that," Thomas said. "The law states that you can't hold me responsible for the actions of another. This is one of the reasons why I'm appealing."
A jury's decision to 'send a message' to potential fire-sharing pirates that there are consequences for their actions shouldn't be construed as punishing Thomas for the ill deeds of others, and that claim by Thomas doesn't strengthen the thin ground on which she's standing in pursuing this appeal.
And, in my opinion, all of this makes the "Free Jammie" movement nothing more than a sham. Just as file-sharing pirates rip-off record companies by getting something of value for nothing, Jammie and friends appear to me to be poised to milk this for all the financial support they can muster without a solid reason other than their openly expressed desire to stick it to the RIAA.
If they had simply attempted to raise money to pay the fine and compensate the record companies as the jury decided they should be compensated I'd be right there banging this drum in support of their cause... but they didn't.
Feel free to donate to Jammie and her cause -- here's the link to her website -- but I don't believe this has anything to do with justice, and instead has everything to do with the same "stick it to the man" attitude that file-sharing fans practice by swapping music and movies.
While the entertainment industry has a lot of reinventing of itself to do in order to better integrate itself into today's digital lifestyles, the mere capability of sharing files illegally doesn't give people the right to do so -- and that's where the file-sharing pirates get it wrong.
"Can" does not equal "should", and it doesn't take expert testimony or an internet guru to understand that.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!