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Are The RIAA's $750-Per-Song Fines Unconstitutional?

from the might-need-a-better-argument dept

In the past, many have questioned why the RIAA gets to request $750 to $30,000 per song fines against those they've charged with offering up unauthorized songs on file sharing networks. Last year there was actually a research paper published that questioned whether or not these fines were unconstitutional, since they may be excessive. That paper included some interesting case history to suggest why the fines might be a bit too high. It appears that one lawyer is finally testing a similar theory in court, and has filed a motion in one such case suggesting that $750 fines are unconstitutional. If you look at the details, it looks like the argument is based on different case law than the research paper -- and the motion seems pretty weak overall in describing the details (i.e., it has very few details). The RIAA quickly filed a response that hits back pretty strongly against the original motion, saying that the case cited isn't really relevant at all -- and that the comparisons made in the motion don't really apply. The original motion points to the money the recording industry would make from someone buying the song on iTunes, but the industry points out that buying a song on iTunes isn't the same thing as a license to distribute it -- which makes sense. It seems highly unlikely that the court will buy the unconstitutional argument, especially as presented, but it's an interesting tactic nonetheless. It's not clear why the original motion didn't delver further into the issue, or use some of the info in last year's paper as a resource to back up the claim... but maybe the lawyer decided it wasn't that compelling.

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  1. identicon
    Icky, 3 May 2006 @ 8:05pm

    RE: RIAA

    The RIAA does not issue fines. Congress writes and passes the laws that set the allowable penalties that can be awarded in copyright infringement lawsuits. If the RIAA catches you uploading songs, they tell you they are going to file suit against you and show you how much you could potentially lose if you lose the case. It scares you. They then give you the option to settle out of court. As with any situation when two parties settle out of court, they come to a mutually agreeable settlement. No government involved.

    I realize people get excited about DRM and copyright but this comment thread is so packed with well-intentioned misinformation that it does more harm than good. For instance:

    >>TheMajor: "innocent until proven guilty"
    There have been a handful of well-publicized cases where the RIAA sued someone who wasn't guilty of infringement. They get their data from ISPs and that process isn't perfect. They have, however, sued more than 20,000 people thus far and the vast majority have been legit. It is okay to hate the RIAA but misconstruing the facts is a waste of time.

    >>James Susanska: "the fines aren't unconstitutional they can charge what they want"
    No. Private parties do not "invent" fines. Fines are specified in legislation that must be passed by Congress. Congress decided on the allowable minimum of $750, not the RIAA (of course, the RIAA lobbied Congress to make it a high number but it is still Congress' decision).

    I'm not fond of the RIAA but our dislike of them is largely misdirected. Capitalism being what it is, a natural evolution of a corporation is to seek all opportunities to increase wealth. The entertainment industry does it, the tobacco industry does it, the oil industry does it. Congress has complete authority to pass the legislation they see fit (and the Pres signs what he wishes). When they capitulate to corporations they do the public a disservice and our ire should be directed at them. You'll never change the RIAA's mind but you might persuade your Senator or Representative.

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