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Mom Against The Music Industry

(AP Photo/Julia Cheng)
Jammie Thomas-Rasset outside federal court in Duluth, Minn. on Oct. 4, 2007.

MINNEAPOLIS (CBS/AP) A Minnesota woman who became the nation's only music file-sharing defendant so far to go to trial is getting a replay two years after losing the case.

Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a 32-year-old mother of four and self-described "huge music fan," will be armed with aggressive new lawyers when her retrial begins in federal court here Monday.

The lawsuit is among the last vestiges of an anti-piracy campaign that the recording industry ultimately dropped amid widespread criticism. The Recording Industry Association of America said in December it had stopped filing lawsuits like these and would work instead with Internet service providers to cut access to those it deems illegal file-sharers. But the recording industry plans to proceed with already-filed cases.

Thomas-Rasset is the rare defendant who has fought back. Two years ago, she lost the first round in court. A federal jury in Minnesota found that she violated copyrights by offering 24 songs on a file-sharing network. She was ordered to pay $222,000 in damages.

But a federal judge decided last September that he made a mistake in telling jurors that the companies didn't have to prove that anyone downloaded the songs she had allegedly made available.

This time, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis will tell jurors the recording companies need to prove that someone actually downloaded the music that Thomas-Rasset allegedly made available over the Internet.

The companies suing are subsidiaries of four major recording companies.

Music companies have filed more than 30,000 similar copyright lawsuits in recent years against people they accused of illegally swapping songs through Internet file-sharing services such as Kazaa. None of the others has made it to trial yet.

Faced with huge legal bills, most settled for an average of about $3,500, even if they insisted they had done nothing wrong. Thomas-Rasset's new lawyer, K.A.D. Camara, notes the settlements add up to more than $100 million; the RIAA contends its legal costs exceeded the settlement money it brought in.

The lawsuits have turned into a public relations nightmare for the recording industry, putting music companies in the position of going after their most ardent fans. Blogs and media reports have highlighted heavy-handed tactics against several improbable targets.

In 2006, for example, the industry dropped a lawsuit against Tanya Andersen, a disabled single mother in Oregon. Andersen said she had been misidentified and never downloaded the music she was accused of stealing. Industry representatives allegedly threatened to question her 10-year-old daughter if she didn't pay up.

And in 2007, the companies backed off their attempt to sue an elderly Texas grandmother, Rhonda Crain, who had been displaced by Hurricane Rita in 2005 and said she never downloaded music. They settled for no money, just her agreement not to download any music illegally.

Camara said he hoped to turn Thomas-Rasset's retrial into a trial against the RIAA, both before the jury and in the court of public opinion. A win by the defense, he said, could undermine the other music-sharing cases.

  • Edecio Martinez

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