Ridiculous Statutory Damages Rules Mean Judge Regretfully Awards $3.6 Million For Circumvention Of DRM

from the totally-out-of-touch-with-reality dept

Eric Goldman points us to yet another example of ridiculous statutory damages rules around copyright creating awards in court cases that have no connection to any real harm. And, this time, it involves the violation of the highly questionable (and controversial) anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA. The case involves an online game, MapleStory, and some people who set up an alternate server, UMaple, allowing users to play the game with the official game client, but without logging into the official MapleStory servers. This kind of thing happens all the time.

In this case, the people behind UMaple apparently ignored the lawsuit, leading to a default judgment. However, even there, it appears that MapleStory went too far, and the judge is clearly annoyed with them at times. Even though judges often side entirely with winners in default judgments, in this case, the judge repeatedly expresses skepticism about arguments made for determining "damages" to be awarded. Thus on most of the claims, the judge seems to look for ways to avoid giving MapleStory much, if any, money. For example, in determining profits made by UMaple, the judge repeatedly knocks MapleStory for failing to show what profits were specific to UMaple's infringement, telling it that it can't just assume all money made by UMaple belongs to MapleStory. So the judge dumps a request for $68,764.23 in profits made by UMaple down to just $398.98.

But... then we get to the anti-circumvention stuff. Here, the ridiculous statutory rates set a minimum of $200 per infringement. Multiply that by 17,938 users of UMaple... and you get $3.6 million. MapleStory, of course, asked for the statutory maximum of $44,845,000, which the court refuses to grant. In fact, the judge chides MapleStory for its request for the maximum -- even to the point of noting that the arguments by MapleStory make it "question very seriously whether Plaintiff intended to actively mislead the Court or whether these oversights were merely the result of poor legal research."

The court then notes that the minimum statutory amount -- the $3.6 million -- is already "a significant windfall to Plaintiff far in excess of any amount necessary to deter future infringing conduct," and also that the "award here likely bears little plausible relationship to Plaintiff’s actual damages." In fact, it sounds like the court would very much like to decrease the amount, but notes that "nevertheless, the court is powerless to deviate from the DMCA's statutory minimum."

As Goldman says, this is "guffaw-inducing", because the minimum award seems to have no bearing on the actual seriousness of the infringement. As he points out:
this case does provide an excellent example of the ridiculousness of anti-circumvention statutory damages. $3.4M can't be the right damages award in this case, and it's so guffaw-inducing that it further erodes the legitimacy of our copyright rules.
Indeed. And yet no one seems interested in exploring just how disconnected statutory damages are from reality.

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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 20 Apr 2012 @ 1:24am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "the problem online is that the line between non-commercial and commercial copying is difficult to see."

    So, perhaps instead of trying to sue inadvertent infringers out of existence, you should be working on clearing this up first? You're never going to eradicate piracy if it's so difficult to tell if you're committing infringement in the first place, are you? How do you stop people committing a crime if they can't tell whether they're committing it to begin with?

    "If he didn't pirate the music, he would have no liability."

    You'll note that he didn't say "iPod full of pirated tunes". Perhaps he didn't pirate them. Despite your objections and assumptions, it's perfectly possible to have a full iPod without breaking any law.

    "stop trying to turn the copyright holders into the criminals, they are the victims here."

    Citation needed on actual quantifiable damages. I can see actual damage being done to inadvertent and innocent parties. I'm yet to see any damage done to copyright holders that's not purely based on assumptions and cherry-picked data (e.g. discounting any of the hundreds of other factors than piracy when looking at the downswing in recorded music sales).

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