from the oh-really? dept
The administration does have a point that there is not a real controversy between different circuit courts on the issue at play here, and thus there may not be a need for the Supreme Court to get involved. After the appeals court ruling, we predicted that the Supreme Court would refuse to hear this case, and that still seems likely. That doesn't mean that there aren't problems with the government's analysis. Its focus on using a Supreme Court ruling from a century ago ("Williams") which covered an obscure issue not directly relevant, still seems problematic to me -- but not so problematic that the Supreme Court is likely to weigh in.
Statutory damages are a massive problem with copyright law today. They are way out of proportion with any actual harm, and thus do raise considerable questions, that might amount to interesting Constitutional challenges. That doesn't mean that this case was the right case (in fact, it has many problems). Even so, it's a bit disappointing to see the Obama administration weigh in at all on the issue, giving a de facto thumbs up to massive and ridiculous statutory damages. The basic conclusion of "Congress decides, and that's good enough" is a real problem:
That public interest cannot be realized if the inherent difficulty of proving actual damages leaves the copyright holder without an effective remedy for infringement or precludes an effective means of deterring further copyright violations. The statute reflects a legislative determination of the range of assessments necessary to vindicate those public interests, see 17 U.S.C. 504(c), and Congress’s judgment as to the appropriate amounts is entitled to deference.If the administration was interested in true leadership in fixing the problems of the copyright system, it would not condone such clearly ridiculous awards. Doing so merely confirms that it remains focused on helping out its friends in legacy industries, rather than reflecting what is actually best for the public.