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Jammie Thomas

Defense in Duluth high-profile file-sharing trial has hot-shot young lawyer, new strategy

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

DULUTH - Jammie Thomas has a new whiz-kid attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School at 19, a new argument and a new locale to state her case -- but her nemesis remains the same.

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When the Brainerd woman faces off a second time against the Recording Industry Association of America, it will be in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis lawyer Brian Toder, who dropped Thomas' case for this go-around, had high praise for his replacement.

"I would say Kiwi Camara is going to be RIAA's worst nightmare,'' Toder said of the 24-year-old Houston lawyer who volunteered to take the case.

Thomas' retrial starts Monday. The court gave no explanation for why the trial was moved from Duluth to Minneapolis, and Thomas said she doesn't know why.

The record companies sued Thomas in 2006, saying she downloaded and shared copyrighted tracks using the KaZaA peer-to-peer file-sharing network. In October 2007, a jury in Duluth found that Thomas committed copyright infringement by distributing 24 songs and determined the penalty should be $9,250 for each of the 24 music tracks she made available to the public. Her total liability was found to be $222,000.

Capitol Records Inc., Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Arista Records LLC, Interscope Records, Warner Bros. Records Inc. and UMG Recordings were the prevailing parties in the lawsuit.

In September 2008, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled that he erred in his instructions to the jury and granted a new trial.

Thomas, 32, was married in February and now goes by the name Thomas-Rasset.

Toder withdrew from representing Thomas-Rasset after running up $130,000 in unpaid bills. Camara said a colleague saw a news story on Toder withdrawing from the case and offered his services to represent her.

He said he and Joe Sibley, his law firm partner and best friend from law school, will represent Thomas at trial. Along with Harvard Law School professor Charles Nesson, they've worked on two other RIAA cases involving college students in Ohio and Massachusetts.

Nesson is founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a program at Harvard founded to explore cyberspace and help pioneer its development.

Thomas-Rasset said she appreciates what Toder did for her, but now she's "very confident'' in Camara's abilities and is happy to be represented by him.

"When I first started, I never shared any songs on a peer-to-peer network and it was me telling them [RIAA] that,'' she said. "But after 3½ years of them calling me derogatory names and seeing how they treat people and how they use their so-called evidence against people -- because of a lot of lucky turns that have happened -- I'm in a position to maybe do something to help everyone else.''

"The most important thing to make clear to everyone,'' Camara said, "is that the RIAA is going around the country for five or six years threatening individual people with millions of dollars of potential liability in federal court and with years of expensive litigation in order to extract settlements from them of $4,000 to $12,000. And not surprisingly, it works. More than 35,000 people have coughed up and the recording industry has collected more than $100 million with this strategy."

Cara Duckworth, director of communications for RIAA, said the agency has filed more than 30,000 cases against individual infringers. She said the settlement discussions and payments are confidential, thus any collection estimates provided by the defendant are likely inaccurate and grossly overestimated.

"Suffice to say, this program has never been about the dollars -- we lose money on it and any recoveries are a small fraction of the enormous toll wrought upon the music community,'' Duckworth said

No matter what happens at trial, Toder, who was a winner of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice's 1995 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award for his work representing several thousand fishermen in the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill litigation, expects the Thomas case to be around for a long time.

"The Thomas case will get even more expensive because no matter who wins, it will go to the Court of Appeals and it could well go to the Supreme Court, and either of those two could remand it back for a third trial,'' he said. "These things are big and they're expensive.''

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