Do The Statutory Damages Rates For Copyright Infringement Violate The Eighth Amendment?

from the questions,-questions dept

While we often discuss the rather large conflict between the First Amendment and copyright law in the US, Stephan Kinsella is also wondering if the current statutory damages rates in copyright also violate the Eight Amendment and its prohibition on "excessive fines." I somewhat wonder if that issue will come up in the Jammie Thomas appeal, which will focus heavily on whether or not an award within the statutory damages rates was too high, but I believe the focus there will be more on the Fourteenth Amendment, and whether or not it was a violation of due process. In fact, it seems like most of the Constitutional discussions on statutory rates focuses on the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Eighth. I'm certainly not a Constitutional scholar (and would love for legal scholars to chime in here), but I believe this is because the courts historically treat these two amendments as related, and effectively argue that the 8th Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment is applied via the 14th Amendment on due process when it involves state laws. So I'm not entirely clear why it's also being used on a federal copyright issue -- but I'm sure someone out there will help explain it to us in the comments shortly!

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2011 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I quoted the Supreme Court saying this: "This Court has never held, or even intimated, that the Eighth Amendment serves as a check on the power of a jury to award damages in a civil case. Rather, our concerns in applying the Eighth Amendment have been with criminal process and with direct actions initiated by government to inflict punishment."

    The Eighth Amendment is not "a check on the power of a jury to award damages in a civil case." The Court could not be any more clear that the Eighth Amendment Excessive Fines Clause is not implicated by excessive jury awards in civil cases.

    The Clause does apply when it's the government doing the fining. Like my example above with the red light ticket. If I get caught running a red light, I get fined by the government. I pay the fine to the government. Thomas-Rasset doesn't owe money to the government. She owes money to the private party plaintiffs. It's not a "fine" as that term is defined to mean in the Eighth Amendment.

    I get what you're saying that this seems like excessive punishment, but the Supreme Court is absolutely clear that as a matter of law the Eighth Amendment does not apply in cases like this involving jury awards. If the damages are excessive, it's a Due Process Clause issue.

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