This is enough to warrant coming out of hibernation. Months after suspending its litigation campaign against individual file-sharers, a jury Friday awarded the RIAA $1.92 million against a 32-year-old Minnesota woman, Jammie Thomas-Rasset, for sharing 24 songs on Kazaa. Toward the end of the Associated Press story on the verdict, Tom Sydnor, director of the Progress and Freedom Foundation's Center for the Study of Digital Property, was heard to say:
Legally acquiring a license to give copies of a song to potentially millions of Kazaa users might well have cost $80,000 per song.
If you still believe that the Internet's worldwide reach implies that every Jane Q. Public has effective access to millions of users, I have some dotcom business plans from 1998 to sell you.
In all likelihood, Ms. Thomas-Rasset wasn't the initial poster of the music. She downloaded it off Kazaa and left it in her shared files folder to be downloaded by other peers. (That's why her defense attorney characterizes her act as "stealing 24 songs that went for about $1.99 on iTunes.") Bandwidth considerations alone would limit the potential number of infringing copies that could be fairly attributed to Ms. Thomas-Rasset's involvement in the peer-to-peer network to no more than a few thousand. Most likely it's a lot fewer.
As a straightforward calculation of statutory damages, the verdict may have a legal basis. But in this day and age, an Internet policy think tank that trots out post hoc normative justifications based on quaint notions of cyberspace as a hierarchy-free speech zone is engaging in a campaign of disinformation.
On a related note, here's a welcome bit of skepticism from Evgeny Morozov on Iran's so-called "Twitter revolution":
It’s true that social media could do wonders when it comes to making many people aware of government’s abuse or the venue of a rally. However, organizing protests is quite different from publicizing them; the former requires absolute secrecy, the latter one strives for the opposite. Discussing logistical matters on Twitter is simply going to attract unnecessary attention of the government and other detractors. This is why most such discussions take place on secure private platforms like e-mail or instant-messaging.
Far from a technology revolution, Iran provides just another example of how power relations in the offline world largely determine the architecture of the communication that actually occurs on the Internet.
Added July 31: More flat web foolishness.
Added January 22, 2010: A happy ending for Ms. Thomas-Rasset.