The Jammie Thomas-Rasset and Joel Tenenbaum verdicts have highlighted this chasm between the "Internet" view of copyright, and what average citizens think of the topic. Now three juries, made up of 34 ordinary people from the Minneapolis and Boston areas, none of whom had any connection to the entertainment industry, have passed judgment upon use of p2p networks to obtain music without paying for it -- an activity that is excused, or even celebrated, in many quarters of the web. And all three of those juries demonstrated through the very large damages awards they imposed that they view illegal downloading and "sharing" as wrong, and deserving of harsh sanction.
Biologist David Crotty, writing at The Scholarly Kitchen, makes a similar point, which serves as valuable reminder to us all that we need to get out of our respective bubbles and "echo chambers," and at least attempt to understand in good faith the arguments and motivations of those with whom we disagree:
entire, very thoughtful, post.
[W]hat’s really interesting to me is that the jurors chose such high figures in the first place. I spend a lot of time keeping an eye on copyright issues, particularly the way new technologies are having an effect on copyright holders and users of copyrighted material. The general consensus online is that our copyright system is broken, that it is being abused by copyright holders, that the RIAA is the root of all evil, and that consumers have lost all respect for copyright, evidenced by the widespread swapping of music files online. The verdicts awarded are making me realize that perhaps I’ve spent too much time inside the internet echo chamber.
The juries in both cases chose figures that were much higher than the minimum allowed by law. Clearly they took the infringement seriously and placed a much higher value on the rights granted the copyright holder than the defendants, their legal teams, and various online pundits expected (note how often you see the phrase “jaw-dropping” in the coverage of each case). If there was great sympathy for filesharers, and if, as alleged, “everybody does it,” wouldn’t the juries have gone for a lower amount? If even $750 per song is excessive, why did the respective juries opt instead for $22,500 and $80,000?
While I don’t agree with the RIAA’s strategy of suing their own customers (it’s ineffective and bad for business), it is heartening to see that people still do place a value on creative efforts and that they are willing to send a strong message in hopes of deterring future copyright infringement.
The development of new technologies has led to a rapidly changing landscape, and copyright laws could certainly do with revision and updating to address these effects. But if there is no respect for the law, and no respect for copyright, then trying to work out fair and forward-looking adjustments is pointless.
The juries’ actions here at least show us that there’s still strong support for promoting “Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”