Copyright Lawsuit Plaintiff Demands $27 Million; Gets $500

from the don't-overstate-your-case dept

Michael Geist points us to an amusing ruling in a Canadian lawsuit over copyright infringement, where the plaintiff demanded $27 million in damages… and ended up with $500. Yes, $500 period. Not $500 thousand. Just $500. One would imagine that the plaintiff spent a hell of a lot more than that on legal fees. The judge seemed to waste no opportunities to point out how ridiculous the case was, even if the plaintiff’s copyright was, actually, infringed upon. Some key quotes:

Generally speaking, the evidence adduced concerning infringement of copyright suggests that the Plaintiff’s claims are disproportionate and opportunistic….

In relation to breach of copyright, the Plaintiff entered the trial seeking $27,000,000.00 (CD) as compensation for acts that, even if proved, would be fairly contained and/or inconsequential forms of infringement….

The Plaintiff speculates that further use was made of the Report but there is no evidence before me to support anything more than the limited uses outlined above…. Also, I can find no evidence that multiple copies of the Report were made and disseminated…. The only action that could have resulted in broader dissemmation occurred when Re-defining Water placed the original version of the Report on its website, but there is no evidence before me, apart from Mr. Reif’s downloading of a single copy for purposes of this lawsuit, that anyone either viewed the Report on the website or downloaded it.

I can find no evidence that any of the Defendants made any money, or gained any other advantage, from either copying or using the Report or any modified version of the Report, or that they have deprived, or could deprive, the Plaintiff of any profits that the Plaintiff might earn from the Report. In fact, the Plaintiff does not even allege that the Defendants sold copies of the Report or that the conduct of the Defendants prevented him from selling or otherwise exploiting the Report with someone else, and it is difficult to see how the Plaintiff might make money from any such activities given the limited purpose of the Report and the context in which it was produced.

It goes on and on in this nature and finally concludes by awarding $500 in statutory damages, noting that the defendant did a good job defending themselves “as best they can in the face of an obviously dubious claim for a substantial sum of money” and then defends the small sum by noting:

I say this because there is no evidence here that the Plaintiff has suffered any damages or that the Defendants have made any profit as a result of the infringing act. This is simply a technical breach and does not warrant the Plaintiff receiving a substantial windfall . Statutory damages require an assessment of the reality of the case and a just result.

That last line is interesting, though (obviously) meaningless in the context of the US cases involving Jammie Thomas and Joel Tenenbaum over that very same question.

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Comments on “Copyright Lawsuit Plaintiff Demands $27 Million; Gets $500”

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Pickle Monger (profile) says:

Damages awarded

This pretty much follows what Canadian courts have generally done. There are no enormous sums of money awarded to plaintiffs as the standards of proof required are quite high. The lady who spilled the hot coffee on herself was awarded ridiculous amount of money from McDonald’s. Yet the guy in Windsor, ON who found a fly in a water bottle and, as a result, suffered “psychiatric illness that was debilitating and had a significant impart on his life” (The Star) was at the end awarded nothing and has to pay the defendants’ legal costs for the proceedings in the Ontario Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Canada.
The $64,000 question is: if the various lobbying groups/collection societies have their way with the new infringement/DMCA/copyright/etc., would the legal tests of proof of damages be changed? If it remains the same, then even with the new rules, the labels and studios and such would still be limited by the requirement to prove the actual damages. In order for them to at least break even on their lawsuits, they would need to set the minimum statutory damages at a VERY HIGH level.

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Damages awarded

if the various lobbying groups/collection societies have their way with the new infringement/DMCA/copyright/etc., would the legal tests of proof of damages be changed?

It sure would be nice for proof of damage to be a factor at all in U.S. copyright “infringement” cases. The plaintiffs seem to be able to say whatever they want about damages, and the courts seem bound to accept it as gospel as long as the “evil act” has taken place.

Bet you can’t wait for DMCA-Canada.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Damages awarded

I love those who point to this website like it proves without doubt McDonald’s should have been held liable.

After receiving the order, the grandson pulled his car forward and stopped momentarily so that Liebeck could add cream and sugar to her coffee. (Critics of civil justice, who have pounced on this case, often charge that Liebeck was driving the car or that the vehicle was in motion when she spilled the coffee; neither is true.) Liebeck placed the cup between her knees and attempted to remove the plastic lid from the cup. As she removed the lid, the entire contents of the cup spilled into her lap.

Okay, let’s run through events in bullet point to make it easy:

1. The coffee was bought and carried off premises.
2. The coffee was taken into vehicle.
3. The plaintiff put the coffee between her own legs.
4. The plaintiff proceeded to spill coffee on her own legs.
5. Call McDonald’s out for not preventing a stupid woman putting boiling coffee between her legs.
6. Literally profit.

I don’t care how severe the burns were, she is the sole cause of the spillage.

I don’t care that Americans seem to think coffee should be luke warm.

I don’t care about McDonald’s and never eat there.

Andrew F (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Damages awarded

Different question — the issue is damages not blame. Assume for a moment that McDonald was at least partly responsible for harm caused to this lady (as the jury actually found).

Then what are fair damages here? Medical costs seem to be a good baseline here. Opportunity costs from time that could have spent working are also fair game. That could very well end up in the 10s of 1000s of dollars.

To get to a million though, usually you need to consider stuff like “severe emotional distress” and “prospective business advantage.” Or punitive damages, although the Supreme Court has limited those to about 4x compensatory damages. Those are probably the sources of much ire about lawsuit awards. That and the lawyer fees.


Re: Re: Re:2 Gross negligence and good PR

Do you people have any clue what a 3rd degree burn is?

Clearly none of you McApologists do.

McDonalds got slapped down by the jury because they saw a pattern of carelessness and actions by McDonalds that exceeded good sense and industry norms. Added to that was clear and repeated attempts to ignore the problem and suppress press coverage about it.

Possibly understanding what a third degree burn is might have helped.

Brigitta (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Damages awarded

If you were to actually read the FACTS of the McDonalds case, you would know that the lady only wanted compensation for her hospitization costs. She was a passenger in a car, and they had parked so she could remove the lid of her coffee. That’s when it spilled on her, and she suffered 3rd degree burns in her groin area, which as you can imagine, is a significantly more painful area than if it had been only her thighs. It was shown that this MacDonalds had kept their coffee at near boiling temperature, and had received many complaints about how hot their coffee was. They kept it that hot as an energy savings measure, and ignored the many complaints they received.

Look at it this way: when you spill coffee on yourself from a restaurant or fast food joint, all it does is smart for a while, you don’t actually expect that it will scald the skin off. Any fluid at 200 degrees or more will cause serious burn damage. (Indeed, we imprison parents who deliberately scald their kids with hot water as child abusers.)

MacDonalds decided to stonewall and delay the trial, and in the end the JURY made the award for a sum that was vastly more than what the plaintiff had been seeking. (Moral: don’t play games with a jury; they’re not as stupid as you think.) Had MacDonalds simply DONE THE RIGHT THING at any time, none of us would be talking about this lawsuit.

Finally, remember that our jury system, where plaintiff and defendant argue their case in front of a group of 12 of their peers, is considered one the best systems the world has come up with for meting out justice. (If you can think of a better system, please don’t keep it to yourself and let the rest of us know about it.) Sure, it isn’t, perfect, but all in all, it works pretty well most of the time. I am always astonished at the readiness of some people to assume that any 12 random people in a jury will be all too easily bamboozled. Because, you know, we just have to protect large corporation from those predatory little old ladies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Damages awarded

Scenario 1:

If you turn on and off a heather are you going to spend more energy?

A: Yes, the little surge in energy adds up and is noticeable.


Get a current meter and do the test, hook it up to any electronic equipment and measure the current on all time for one minute and then do the same thing but switching on and off the device.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Damages awarded

> I am always astonished at the readiness of
> some people to assume that any 12 random
> people in a jury will be all too easily
> bamboozled.

They’re often bamboozled because the lawyers manage to maneuver evidenced into being suppressed that they never get to hear.

I can’t count the number times I’ve spoken with jurors after the trial is over where they’ve said, “Well, hell, if I’d known *that* I’d have voted the other way.”

Freeper says:

Re: Re: Re: Damages awarded

Probably nothing, spilling hot coffee on yourself is negligence on the part of the consumer not McDonalds

HEAR, HEAR! Anyone stupid enough to drink that crap McDonalds calls coffee should probably be taken out of the gene pool anyway, so I’d say that coffee got her in just the right place. McDonalds should have been paid a reward!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Damages awarded

Don’t quote me, but I think the issue with the coffee is that it was kept hotter than it should have been by mcdonalds, such that when it spilled it caused serious injury. So yeah her fault for spilling it on herself, but it should have been hot enough to cause injury in the first place, making it McDonalds fault.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Damages awarded

Who decides how ‘hot’ is ‘too hot’? The coffee was kept at a temperature that would keep the flavor the longest, which makes sense. In fact, McD’s isn’t the only ones that kept their coffee that hot. It was something of a standard.

Not a coffee drinker, but I tend to agree with the EuroGump that thinks Americans like their coffee lukewarm. If you aren’t taking maximum advantage of the product, why buy it in the first place? And if you’re so friggin’ idiotic to put a styrofoam takeaway cup between your legs and remove the only thing keeping it from crushing, then you got what you deserved.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Damages awarded

Research the mcdonalds case, she only wanted medical bills paid. She was stonewalled. It became a high number because there was an obvious fear it was cheaper for mcdonalds to settle these cases than change their ways because their way made them more money (hotter coffee, dilution, more product etc). Also, she never got that final ridiculous often cited number, it was knocked down.

zegota (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Damages awarded

The coffee was hot past the point of safety. It was hot to the point where 2 seconds of exposure gives you third degree burns. No other restaurant had coffee that hot. Spilling Burger King coffee on yourself likely results in an annoying burn that might leave a mark for a while. Spilling that McDonald’s coffee on yourself resulted in needing a god damn skin graft.

Anonymous Coward says:

On the facts stated in the Judge’s opinion, it is much more likely than not that had the suit been tried in the US the award would have been in the neighborhood of $750, the minimum amount awardable under US law for statutory damages.

As an aside, to compare this case to the JRT and T cases is inapt, unless, of course, the purpose for such a comparison is to fan the flames that copyright law is just so unfair to people who wilfully and deliberately download and distribute via P2P copyrighted works of the type that are spread virally and in copious amounts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The vague lawyer strikes again. Continue, please, with your vast and perfect knowledge, on all the evidence that the plaintiffs in those two cases suffered any damages or that the defendants made any profit as the result of the infringing act.

Of course, that would require you to actually form and support a specific argument, so you can’t and won’t.

Ranzear (profile) says:

(ad infinitum) Damages awarded

There is a specific description of the spill somewhere in the case. Essentially, she squeezed the top of the cup to remove the lid and the sudden removal deformed the cup and caused a small portion of the liquid inside to spill. It was the shock of this initial 200 degree liquid hitting her lap that caused her to reflex and spill the rest on herself. Had the coffee not been so excessively hot, this initial spill wouldn’t have caused so severe a reaction as to spill the rest and cause such injury.

tl;dr, the spilled a little, and it was so hot it made her jump and spill the rest.

Let’s spill pre-boiling water in your lap and see you not squirm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: (ad infinitum) Damages awarded

That is not the point.

The point is, should we punish others for no/little fault of their own for actions taken by reckless individuals?

If the cup exploded on her legs I can see McDonalds being guilty of something, if the cup have breakdown for faulty design I can understand that, but at the time people knew coffee was hot and could cause burns, why put a Styrofoam cup between your legs?

Heck kettle’s can burn people, coffee-maker machines evaporate water(212F or 100C) would they be liable too if anyone managed to hurt themselves?

Should people in their houses when offered tea be able to collect damages from hosts that boil water to make coffee and they somehow manage to burn themselves?

Terry Hart (profile) says:

Re: Re: (ad infinitum) Damages awarded

The point is, should we punish others for no/little fault of their own for actions taken by reckless individuals?

If the cup exploded on her legs I can see McDonalds being guilty of something, if the cup have breakdown for faulty design I can understand that, but at the time people knew coffee was hot and could cause burns, why put a Styrofoam cup between your legs?

No, the correct question is who should bear the costs when a wrong is committed. Tort is not about “punishment” or “guilt” (though those elements play a role in some cases).

This site has a good overview of the fundamentals of tort theory.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: (ad infinitum) Damages awarded

> Let’s spill pre-boiling water in your lap and
> see you not squirm.

Of course I’d squirm. However, I’m smart enough not to put a (flimsy) cup of such dangerous liquid between my legs in the first place. And if for some reason I was stupid enough to do so and burned myself, I wouldn’t blame the restaurant for my own idiotic behavior.

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