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Wednesday: Defendant's claim is key in music piracy case

  • Article by: Larry Oakes
  • Star Tribune
  • October 4, 2007 - 9:43 AM

DULUTH - Jammie Thomas has been freely admitting during her trial that for years her user name all over the Internet was "Tereastarr."

Today, the main question facing the jury as it begins deliberations is whether the Brainerd woman was the Tereastarr a recording industry sleuth caught in the act of digital piracy.

The civil case centers on whether Thomas offered a file of more than 1,700 copyrighted songs for sharing on the Kazaa network.

Deciding that she was that Tereastarr would require the jury to reject Thomas' statements under oath Wednesday that she never illegally downloaded copyrighted music, had never heard of Kazaa before the recording industry sued her and that she didn't destroy evidence by having her hard drive replaced after she came under scrutiny.

Such a rejection by the jury would hand an industry, lately shredded by the song-sharing efficiency of the Internet, at least a symbolic victory in the only one of 26,000 copyright lawsuits against individuals that has gone to trial to date. The industry is attempting to hold Thomas liable in connection with 24 of the songs allegedly shared.

Damages could run as high as $150,000 per song if the jury finds willful copyright infringement.

Richard Gabriel, the Recording Industry Association of America's lead attorney in the trial, is expected to contend in his final argument today that it's reasonable to conclude Thomas was at her computer on the night of Feb. 21, 2005, when SafeNet, a contractor employed by the industry to patrol the Internet, captured "screen shots" on Kazaa of a user named Tereastarr offering copyrighted songs from her Internet Protocol address.

Testimony showed that on that night, that address was assigned to Thomas' computer, and that Tereastarr was warned via instant message that he or she was sharing copyrighted material.

Thomas, 30, who works for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, admitted Wednesday that the performers who recorded the songs held in an open file by Tereastarr that night included a mix of more than 60 artists that she listens to, including Lacona Coi, Cold, Howard Shore and Drowning Pool.

Still, Thomas maintained as the screen shots of the file were projected onto a screen for the jury: "That share folder is not mine."

Thomas' attorney, Brian Toder of Minneapolis, is expected to argue that regardless of what else it may have proven, the recording industry never placed Thomas at her computer that night, leaving open the possibility that someone hijacked her IP address, modem identification and user name to make it appear she was sharing files.

Plaintiff's expert witness computer engineering Prof. Doug Jacobson of Iowa State University, testified that while "spoofing" someone's computer information to that degree is theoretically possible, he saw no evidence of it when examining data captured by SafeNet.

In other testimony potentially damaging to her case, Thomas admitted that she burned copyrighted music onto CDs to give as gifts and wrote a college paper defending the original version of the file-sharing network Napster, which she admitted using before it was shut down in 2001.

When Gabriel pressed her on how she could know so much about file sharing and never hear of the well-known Kazaa network, she maintained that was indeed the case.

She also admitted that after the industry informed her by letter in August 2005 that it intended to sue, she offered her hard drive for inspection to show she was innocent and then testified that it had been installed in January 2004.

But a Geek Squad supervisor testified that Best Buy put a new hard drive in her computer in March 2005, two months after she came under scrutiny.

Asked to explain for the jury, Thomas testified that she'd made a calendar error.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis told jurors Wednesday that once they have they case, he'll allow deliberations until late this afternoon and excuse them for the weekend if they haven't reached a verdict.

Larry Oakes • 1-218-727-7344

Larry Oakes • loakes@startribune.com

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