The big music labels have won their first court case against an individual accused of stealing music online: A federal jury in Duluth, Minn has found that 30-year-old Jammie Thomas shared 1,702 songs illegally, and has levied a $200,000 fine against her.
Of course, this isn’t a win for the music business at all. Because suing your customers — and actually taking them to court — is never a good idea. Nevermind that the legal case against Thomas was always straightforward — the courts have been quite clear about the illegality of filesharing for years. The spectacle that the case created — music execs, for instance, trudging over to a Duluth courthouse to explain why copying music you own is technically illegal — didn’t do anything to help the music industry’s case.
And neither will this ruling. Even if the fate of Jammie Thomas has a real deterrent effect (and we don’t think it will), it’s not going to solve the music industry’s real problem: It is dependent on a product – the CD – that customers no longer want to buy. For argument’s sake, say the industry is able to forcibly restrain people from illegal file-sharing. That still wouldn’t turn song-stealers into CD buyers — at best they’d be singles buyers. That is, instead of spending $10 or $15 for discs, they’d spend a couple bucks on individual songs. And even after years of cuts, the industry still isn’t lean enough to support itself on a diet of $1 purchases.
Again, the good news is that no music executive geniuinely believes that they can put the file-sharing genie back in the bottle. But the bad news is that they haven’t been able to figure out how to replace the CD. And unless they can, they’re going to have to endure a lot more pain.