The Case against Jammie Thomas

Jammie Thomas, a 28-year-old mother, seemed an unlikely target for a million-dollar lawsuit. A conservation coordinator for Ojibwe Indians with a modest income, she came up against the RIAA and its desire for a show trial to flex its muscles on the issue of unauthorized online file swapping, which had drained much of the music industry’s revenue.

In federal court in northern Minnesota, Capitol Records filed a RIAA-backed copyright infringement case. The civil trial began in 2007. The company told jurors that Thomas had downloaded 1,702 tracks from a file-swapping intermediary, Kazaa. As a Kazaa user, her collection became available free to millions of fellow Kazaa users. Capitol said it wanted damages from Thomas for 24 songs, which included music by Capitol big-buck performers Aerosmith, Green Day, and Guns N’ Roses.

Thomas denied downloading through Kazaa. Her attorney suggested a hacker had created the Kazaa account that was linked to her. Thomas was discredited, and the case went through three trials over 15 months.

At one point, a jury awarded Capitol Records $1.9 million—$8,100 a song. The sum eventually was reduced to $54,000, still an unfathomable amount for a single mom from an impoverished Indian reservation.

But the recording industry, which coordinated Capitol’s action, was less interested in recovering losses from Thomas than in sending a signal. The industry wanted everyone who was engaging in free music-swapping to take note that the industry was prepared to use private investigators to track down swappers in every nook and

cranny of the country. Thomas herself lived in sparsely populated northern Minnesota.

Already, at the music industry’s insistence, the courts had shut down Kazaa and a similar service, Grokster. Earlier, the courts had done the same with the pioneer Napster music-swapping service. Those cases had been tracked closely by college students and teenagers who either had received threatening e-mails from RIAA or knew friends who had.

Imagine opening an urgent e-mail from RIAA accusing you of illegally downloading hundreds of songs onto your computer. By doing this, the e-mail charged, you had violated federal copyright law. The law, you’re reminded, grants rights to an artist, publisher, or distributor for exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of artistic work. The message is threatening: Settle now for several thousand dollars or we’ll see you in federal court. These pre-litigation e-mails prompted many music- sharers to mail back a check and settle, despite feeling that they were unfairly singled out.

The Motion Picture Association of America, foreseeing the potential for films to lose revenue through file swapping when faster download speeds could handle video as easily as music, joined the legal action against Jammie Thomas. Music sales had already dropped more than half—from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $6.3 billion in 2009— due to free downloading and file-swapping, and the MPAA saw itself as the next victim.

Point: Swapping music is instinctive and hardly a moral issue. There is no excuse for money-hungry media companies to cash in on young people trying to save a few bucks with free downloads for their personal pleasure.

Counterpoint: The financial structure of mass media is built on the principle that creativity needs to be encouraged by offering financial incentives for creators. Downloading in violation of copyright law is thievery and indeed a moral issue.

5.4.3 Radio 1. Objective: Describe the evolution of the radio industry

The shape of radio as an industry is a rich and evolving result of stations operating in their economic self-interest, of government regulation, and of new technologies.

Radio remains the top source for music discovery, and its local nature makes it an

integral part of the daily lives of hundreds of millions of consumers in markets large and small. Pop music has held the dominant radio audience share in the United States for decades. According to the Nielsen ratings service, more than one-third of the audience listens to current popular music during any 15-minute period during the day. Dividing stations by format is not so simple because some of the names for formats may differ, but the music itself may fit in more than one category, and some of the lines between various formats are blurred. The table below illustrates a reasonable breakdown of the top audio formats of 2015 for listeners in the 18–34 age group.

Top Music Preferences for Persons Aged 18–34 (2015)

Music Preference Percent Share of 18–34-Year Olds Popular Contemporary Hit Radio 12.4% Country Music 9.1% Hot Adult Contemporary Hit Radio (AC) 7.6% Rhythmic Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) 5.8% Adult Contemporary Hit Radio (AC) 6.4% Urban Contemporary 6.5% Mexican Regional 4.6% Alternative 5.0% Classic Rock 4.5% News, Talk, Information 3.6%

Radio as an Industry Radio became an industry when independent-minded entrepreneurs recognized they had mutual interests and needed to organize. This happened in 1922 when a manufacturer of radio sets, Eugene McDonald, convened a meeting of radio station owners in Chicago to form the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The NAB became a unified voice to promote the financial interests of stations in ways that individual stations could not.

The NAB’s major accomplishment was convincing Congress to establish a national system of frequency allocations. The Federal Radio Act of 1927 assigned frequencies to commercial stations. This allowed stations to assure advertisers that their messages

would be heard by geographically defined audience without being drowned out by competing stations. NAB welcomed radio networks as members in the late 1920s when the networks had established themselves a profitable source of programming for local stations.

Two-Tier System of the Radio Industry With 8,300 member broadcast companies today, NAB is the lobbying voice of terrestrial radio, television stations, and broadcast networks in Congress. The core of the radio industry functions at these two levels—the stations and the networks. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), established in 1934 under the aegis of the 1927 Federal Radio Act and successor legislation, issues licenses to stations to transmit within limited geographical areas. It’s a local system, unlike many countries with national stations. But there also is a second tier of the radio industry—national networks.

Although the United States has no national radio stations, the networks comprise a second tier of the industry with national programming. Networks are not licensed by the government, but affiliate stations are responsible to the FCC for all the content they air. Because the FCC could yank the licenses of local stations affiliated with a network, the government policy has unmistakable implications for network programming because affiliates are loath to risk their licenses, without which they couldn’t broadcast.

Commercial Radio and Talk Radio Commercial stations program mostly canned music. News has disappeared almost entirely as a radio genre, except for all-news operations in major cities. A significant radio programming genre, not clearly entertainment or news, is talk and listener call- in programming. Most talkers, as they’re called, feature a host, usually opinionated and appealing to a narrow band of like-minded listeners.

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