By Caleb T. Maupin
Jammie Thomas, a single mother of Native Anishinabe descent, has been found guilty of copyright infringement and sentenced to pay a $2 million fine. Her crime was downloading 24 songs that can be legally purchased on iTunes for 99 cents each. (Wired.com, June 18)
Thomas was convicted by an all-white jury near Duluth, Minn., after the prosecution played on racist stereotypes in its charges against Thomas. The prosecution also purged the jury of anyone who admitted they had downloaded a song or had friends who had done so.
Of the more than 30,000 people sued or threatened with a suit for alleged illegal downloading of music, only Jammie Thomas’ case has gone to trial. Thomas works for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians in their Department of Natural Resources and Environment. The Anishinabe peoples are the third-largest Native nation in the United States, after the Cherokee and the Navajo. Their members include militant activist Winona LaDuke and political prisoner Leonard Peltier.
The corporate interest group that pressed for Thomas’ prosecution is known as the Recording Industry Association of America. RIAA is made up of large music producing and distributing corporations in the U.S.
RIAA, along with its allies in the film industry, have launched a well-publicized campaign against the “piracy” of downloading music and videos without paying a fee. One part of this campaign has been ads in which recording artists, light technicians and other low-paid entertainment employees are featured, claiming that “piracy hurts the little guy.”
Yet when it comes to “hurting the little guy,” the corporations making up RIAA cannot be compared with those who download an MP3 or torrent a video file.
General Electric, which owns Universal Records, makes its profits from stealing much more than songs. General Electric is contracted by the Pentagon to produce the bombs and weapons used against oppressed people in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia, among other places. GE also made $26.3 billion in the subprime mortgage business with its WMC Mortgage company. (Reuters, March 9, 2007)
Environmental organizations have documented that Sony, a corporation associated with RIAA, has an open policy of practicing extra-legal surveillance of those who organize against global warming and ecological degradation. (Inter Press Service, Sept. 22, 2000)
When will General Electric pay for the millions across the globe killed by the weapons it produces for the Pentagon? When will mortgage lenders linked to the recording industry pay for throwing working people out of their homes and destroying the so-called “American Dream” of home ownership for so many in the U.S.? When will Sony pay for spying on the environmental movement in hopes of suppressing it and continuing mass pollution and ecological destruction?
Only when the workers and oppressed people rise up by the millions and demand it will justice come to those openly guilty of the true “piracy” called capitalist exploitation.
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