Two months ago now, a federal court found that Jamie Thomas-Rasset willfully infringed the copyright of 24 songs, and the ruled that she must pay the Recording Industry Association of America $80,000 per song for an amazing total of $1.92 million. I personally was outraged. Not that she was found guilty of copyright infringement–she was guilty–but buy the shear size of this judgment. Understand this was not a criminal trial, but a civil trial–a case brought by the RIAA against Thomas-Rasset.
Anyhow, I was angry that big business could use our laws and court system in this manner–that they could use our courts as a revenue stream–as a means of extorting money from ordinary individuals. I’m sure that current copyright law did not take its present form apart from the influence of the RIAA and others like it (the Motion Pictures Association of America, for example).
So, I thought I’d write my senators and congressman. I wanted to express my outrage. I hoped they’d share my outrage. And I hoped that they’d also recognize that our courts were being misused and our copyright laws–laws that senators and congressmen enacted and amended–were being applied in such outrageous ways.
Well, much to my surprise, I got a response from all three of them. I think I was equally surprised that not a single one of them shared my concerns. And to the man, more or less, said that there was nothing they could do. What?! Aren’t these guys legislators–from the latin for law–and they can’t do anything about laws that are screwed up?
It is hard for me to walk away from this experience thinking that my elected officials actually represent me–that they work for me–and not for lobbyists like the MPAA, the RIAA, and others. If this is the response I get with regard to copyright law, what can I expect with regard to health care reform? Will they care about my interests or will they be looking after the interests of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries–the guys who paid for their campaigns?
Should I also take offense with the subtle condescension as each one, to a greater or lesser degree, tried to educate me in how our government works and the roles of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches. If they think that the people they represent are idiots, then maybe there should be more talk on capitol hill about improving our ailing education system.
Anyhow, this experience hasn’t helped lessen my present cynicism. To be completely fair, at least Senator Inhofe said he would “keep my views in mind” when these kinds of issues come before the senate. However, in my present cynical state, I’m inclined to chalk that up as savvy–you don’t serve for 15 years without learning a thing or two about how to deal with boobs.
I’ve included the text of Congressman Cole and Senator Inhofe’s messages below. This post follows up an earlier post when I responded to Senator Coburn, here. Your feedback is appreciated.
From Congressman Cole:
Dear Mr. George:
Thank you for writing to Congressman Cole regarding Jamie Thomas Rasset.
On behalf of his constituents, Congressman Cole makes inquiries to resolve issues pending before the executive branch of the United States Government for residents of the 4th District of the State of Oklahoma. Since Ms. Thomas-Rasset’s is a resident of Minnesota, this matter would be more appropriately brought to the attention of her Congressional office. Therefore, we have forwarded a copy of your email to Senator Amy Klobuchar for her review and consideration.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any personal concerns at the federal level of government.
Office Manager/Case Worker
From Sentor Inhofe:
Dear Mr. George:
Thank you for contacting me regarding the case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset. As your public servant in Washington, it is good to hear from you.
I appreciate your sharing with me your frustrations with the lawsuit initiated by the Recording Industry Association of America, but this is not a matter with which my office can offer assistance. I do not have the authority to interfere with litigation currently being handled in our judicial system.
However, I appreciate knowing your views regarding intellectual property. As you already know, intellectual property identifies a number of legal instruments – including copyrights, patents, and trademarks – that provide innovators with ownership of their creations. Specifically, copyright provides authors with exclusive rights in their writings, visual works and other works of authorship, patents protect inventors of products, processes and other useful inventions, and trademarks protect the symbols used by merchants to identify their goods and services.
Some observers believe that intellectual property rights encourage industry concentration and create barriers to market entry. Others assert that intellectual property law promotes ethical and efficient marketplace behavior, holding that one individual should not be allowed to profit from another’s labor.
As Congress addresses intellectual property rights, I will certainly keep your views in mind. Again, thank you for your correspondence. Your input is valuable to me as I serve you in the United States Senate.
James M. Inhofe
United States Senator