Court Will Examine The Constitutionality Of RIAA Fines

from the a-big-loss-for-the-RIAA dept

When the RIAA sues people for unauthorized uploading of songs, they usually put a price between $750-per-song to $30,000-per-song in losses. Many have argued that this seems rather excessive -- especially considering how much the songs are actually sold for. A year and a half ago, there was a scholarly paper that examined whether the RIAA's excessive loss claims were unconstitutionally excessive. With that in mind, it wasn't that surprising earlier this year to see one defendant in an RIAA suit question the constitutionality of the $750 number that was trotted out in her case. At the time, we stated that the reasoning used to back this up seemed much weaker than the reasoning in the law review article, but as lawyer Ray Beckerman (who is involved in the case) explained, the filing was limited in length and only needed to serve a specific purpose. It also looks like they were later able to submit either the law review article we mentioned, or other supporting documents. No matter what happened, the judge has now ruled that it is a perfectly legitimate question, and will be included as part of the case. The judge tossed out all of the RIAA's objections, noting that the defendant actually backed up their claim with case law and law review articles. The RIAA, on the other hand, could offer no similar case law to explain why the constitutionality of the fines couldn't be questioned. Of course, who knows how the case will turn out, but should the RIAA lose, it would be pretty damaging for them. They use the threat of the $750/song (or higher) fines as a way to bully people into just settling, rather than fighting -- even if they know they're innocent.

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  1. identicon
    Gene Hoffman, 10 Nov 2006 @ 4:54pm

    Re: Re: The $750 is from Copyright Law

    Mike,

    The problem with the law review article is that it is confusing issues. It is making a claim that copyright statutory damages are punitive. In fact, there is another section lower that talks about punitive damages

    This comment thread goes to prove why Congress spoke on this issue. Statutory damages are there because proving the actual damages (unlike proving the $4000 damages in BMW) is non trivial.

    The law review's logic may be applicable in a case like MP3.com's, but in the average file sharer's case, $750 multiplied by the number of files being shared illegally isn't outrageous.

    In BMW, the punitive damages on the $4K of actual damages were initially $4M, reduced to $2M by the State Supreme Court, and then affirmed by the US Supreme Court.

    The law review is playing a bit loose with the comparisons there. It is awfully convenient for the writer to assume that the RIAA knows that the actual damages are $1. The writer blithely skips over the simple question of the plaintiffs not having knowledge of how many times the shared file in question has been downloaded. It certainly could be more than 750 times for many files and its not like the file sharers or the file sharing software writers want to keep an incriminating log. If they didn't mind having a log, they could just run a webserver.



    -Gene

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