Judge vacates RIAA win in Thomas case, calls damages awarded oppressive
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis of Duluth, Minnesota has declared a mistrial in the only win in RIAA’s long legal fight against consumers. He also commented on the laws behind the copyright infringement claims of RIAA stating that they were “unprecedented and oppressive” for
- non commercial p2p users
and intended only for operations which sought to compete with record labels.
Full quote from the Thomas ruling[pdf]:
While the Court does not discount Plaintiffs’ claim that, cumulatively, illegal downloading has far‐reaching effects on their businesses, the damages awarded in this case are wholly disproportionate to the damages suffered by Plaintiffs. Thomas allegedly infringed on the copyrights of 24 songs ‐ the equivalent of approximately three CDs, costing less than $54, and yet the total damages awarded is $222,000 – more than five hundred times the cost of buying 24 separate CDs and more than four thousand times the cost of three CDs. While the Copyright Act was intended to permit statutory damages that are larger than the simple cost of the infringed works in order to make infringing a far less attractive alternative than legitimately purchasing the songs, surely damages that are more than one hundred times the cost of the works would serve as a sufficient deterrent.
Thomas not only gained no profits from her alleged illegal activities, she
sought no profits. Part of the justification for large statutory damages awards in
copyright cases is to deter actors by ensuring that the possible penalty for
infringing substantially outweighs the potential gain from infringing. In the case
43 of commercial actors, the potential gain in revenues is enormous and enticing to potential infringers. In the case of individuals who infringe by using peer‐to‐peer networks, the potential gain from infringement is access to free music, not the possibility of hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of dollars in profits.
This fact means that statutory damages awards of hundreds of thousands of
dollars is certainly far greater than necessary to accomplish Congress’s goal of
Unfortunately, by using Kazaa, Thomas acted like countless other Internet
users. Her alleged acts were illegal, but common. Her status as a consumer who
was not seeking to harm her competitors or make a profit does not excuse her
behavior. But it does make the award of hundreds of thousands of dollars in
damages unprecedented and oppressive.
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