About three weeks ago I was so shocked and dismayed by the $1.92 million judgement against Jamie Thomas-Rasset that I wrote my two senators and my congressman about it. I didn’t save a copy of those messages–though I now wish I had. I didn’t really expect that to go anywhere any way. Essentially what I recall writing was that there is something wrong with our laws and our courts when something like this can happen. I also hoped that my representatives were equally outraged. Well, today, the unexpected happened and I got an actual letter–you know, on paper in an envelope delivered to my mailbox–from Senator Tom Coburn. The delight at receiving the letter from my Senator quickly wore off when I read the contents. Here is the letter in its entirety:
Dear Mr. George,
Thank you for contacting my office regarding the federal trial of Jamie Thomas-
Unfortunately, the difficulties you described in your e-mail regarding Ms.
Thomas-Rasset are legal in nature. Therefore, her situation would fall under the judicial
branch of the federal government, not the legislative branch. The U.S. Constitution
requires a separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches
of government, which means that as U.S. Senator I am not in a position to offer legal
advise[sic] to my constituents, to intervene in matters that involve the judicial branch of the
federal government, or interfere with matters or decisions that are rendered through our
judiciary system. Ms. Thomas-Rasset has been well represented by competent counsel.
I regret that my office was unable to be of more assistance. In the future, should
you require assistance with another matter, please feel free to contact my office.
United States Senator
My opinion of the senator would have been better had he not replied to my initial message at all. Here was my response in its entirety:
Dear Senator Coburn,
First I want to thank you for responding to my initial message regarding the trail of Jamie Thomas-Rasset.
However, I must confess that I am disappointed with the contents of that response. I understand that her case is essentially in the hands of the courts at this point and you have no power to influence the judicial system in that particular case. However, the larger point of my letter to you was that there is something horribly wrong with copyright law as it stands today. When powerful media companies can employ our court system to bring an ordinary citizen to financial ruin and place upon her a life sentence of poverty for something as trivial as file sharing, something is horribly wrong.
It is not my intention to justify the actions of Thomas-Rasset or others like her. Nor do I deny the recording industry’s legitimate claim of infringement and damages. What bothers me about this case is the severity of the judgement. It is completely out of proportion and offends common sense and decency. This woman will be unable to rise above poverty for the remainder of her natural life. The RIAA will have a lien on her earnings until they receive their $1.92 million judgement. This is an amount she will likely never accrue in her entire working life.
The matter which I bring to your attention is that the courts were ruling on copyright law. I should not have to instruct you in these matters, but copyright law was enacted by legislators like you. And it was amended on numerous occasions by legislators like you. And I assure you that I know, without a doubt, that present copyright law did not take its present form free from the influence of lobbies like the RIAA. It is a system the recording industry has helped to create and now uses as a revenue stream.
You are right that the judiciary is responsible for interpreting and applying the law. And I am not arguing that they were wrong in their application of the law in the case of Thomas-Rasset. What I am saying is that there is a problem with the law–a problem that must be addressed–a problem that can and must be corrected by legislators like you.
I cannot agree with your letter and conclude that you are unable to do something about this, about copyright law, that is. I do not want to conclude that you are unwilling to do something about this. That would mean that you are content with a system that favors big business at the expense of ordinary citizens. I understand we are a nation with significant challenges at home and abroad. However, in the midst of these larger issues we should not be willing to neglect justice for individuals like Jamie Thomas-Rasset. I understand the complexity of this issue. I understand the complexity of our times. I would ask you to reconsider your position that you are unable to do anything. It is not beyond the scope of the legislative branch to amend copyright law, the US legislature has done it many times, it is time for you to do it again.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
resident of Norman, OK
What do you think? Do I have a point? Am I overreacting? Your feedback on this little interaction with my elected representative is greatly appreciated.