U.S. Government Supports RIAA in Supreme Court File-Sharing Case

February 13, 2013 -

The United States government has weighed in on the Jammie Thomas-Rasset v. Capitol Records file-sharing case, siding with the RIAA and the recording industry and asking the U.S. Supreme Court to deny Thomas-Rasset the Writ of Certiorari she seeks. The case is the longest running file-sharing case to date, and the first to be heard by the Supreme Court (previously the Court refused to hear two cases related to file-sharing damages).

The latest battle is due to the Court of Appeals reinstating the original $222,000 award in September, overturning a U.S. District Court ruling that reduced the damages. After losing the case in the Appeals Court, Lawyers for Thomas-Rasset decided to take the case to the Supreme Court. Lawyers for Thomas-Rasset argue that the $9,250 statutory damages award per shared song (24 in total) is unconstitutional and that the damages are out of proportion and not in line with any harm the RIAA labels have suffered.

In an amicus brief filed by the Justice Department, the government sides with the RIAA and asks the Supreme Court to keep the current $220,000 verdict intact. The Administration believes that punishing damages are needed to deter others from engaging in online piracy.

"An award of statutory damages under the Copyright Act does not simply redress a private injury, but also serves to vindicate an important public interest," the brief reads.

"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," it continues.

How much this will help or hurt that RIAA remains to be seen... You can read the government's brief on Wired.

Source: TorrentFreak


Comments

Re: U.S. Government Supports RIAA in Supreme Court ...

When many of these copyright laws were originally written, the penalties made sense, as the only ones who could engage in infringement (don't glorify it with the name "piracy") were large scale commercial infringers. These people had to invest significant capital in the machinery of reproduction, so it made sense that a large fine would shut them down and reimburse the copyright holder for their loss to an illegal competitor.

But now we have non-commercial infringement, an entirely different kind of animal. With the motive of profit mostly removed from the picture the fine becomes a joke rather than a serious law.

How we view intellectual property is rapidly changing. There is no stopping it. What we need are new rules and a new social contract regarding these rights that returns to a balance between the copyright holder and the consumer. Something along the lines of "you will be paid for your 'work' and you will not restrict my fair & legitimate uses of said work".

Re: U.S. Government Supports RIAA in Supreme Court ...

It would be a joke anyway if the it wasn't only lawyers laughing all the way to the bank.

Re: U.S. Government Supports RIAA in Supreme Court ...

"In an amicus brief filed by the Justice Department, the government sides with the RIAA and asks the Supreme Court to keep the current $220,000 verdict intact. The Administration believes that punishing damages are needed to deter others from engaging in online piracy."

Mind you this is the same Justice Department that employs a bunch of ex-RIAA lawyers.

Re: U.S. Government Supports RIAA in Supreme Court ...

Is $9,250 too steep a fine for illegal file-sharing?  Perhaps.

On the other hand, just don't do that.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: U.S. Government Supports RIAA in Supreme Court ...

Good point.

In the same vein, is cutting your hands off too steep a fine for stealing a few apples? Perhaps.

On the other hand, just don't do that.

o_0

Re: U.S. Government Supports RIAA in Supreme Court ...

Good point.

In the same vein, is sodomizing your parakeet with a spatula too steep a fine for picking your nose?  Perhaps.

On the other hand, just don't do that.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: U.S. Government Supports RIAA in Supreme Court ...

I was thinking of making a comment just like this before I scrolled down and saw yours. Kudos!

Instead, I'll expand a bit: The concept of proportionality is often an underrated component of a healthy justice system. One might naively think that increasing the penalties for a crime would result in less of that crime, but this comes with a few problems:

First, human nature doesn't work that way. For the most part, people commit crimes without thinking (they panic, they get enraged, etc), unknowingly (they don't know it's against the law), out of desperation (they need to steal food to live), or when assuming they probably won't get caught (like is usually the case with file sharing, as so many people do it and so few are prosecuted). There are very few people (though surprisingly many corporations) who properly weigh the chance they'll get caught and the penalty for it against the benefit of the crime. As such, increasing the penalty for a crime will do next to nothing to make it occur less often. The only thing that can be done on the enforcement end to make crime less common is to make enforcement more consistent: If 90% of the people who shared files were caught and forced to pay back even a small amount (as long as it's larger than the cost of buying legally), file sharing wouldn't be an attractive option. But of course, this costs the government money to enact, so they take the easy option of just raising the penalties.

The second big problem with disproportionate penalties is that it builds resentment in people. Making an example of a few people only works in a tyranny that rules by fear. In a democracy, people have the power to peacefully overthrow a government that they believe has overstepped its power. Now, it doesn't always work that way - a lot of people will find ways to mentally justify government abuses - but resentment can build.

Finally, disproportionate punishment simply isn't ethical. If we consider the government as a tool to enact justice, then imposing a disproportionate punishment is anything but just. If someone steals $100 and is fined $1,000 for it, that's relatively proportionate - the cost of what was stolen, plus time and effort needed for the government to enact the punishment, plus inconvenience. The total harm done by the thief is in the same ballpark as the harm done to them. If they're fined $220,000 for doing something that may or may not have actually caused someone harm, then they're being harmed far more than the alleged victim. The government's gone overboard and turned the offender into a victim themself. Now, one could make arguments that the purpose of the justice system isn't simply to balance out wrongs, but perhaps deterrence, then I refer you to my first point: Deterrence doesn't work. If the purpose is vengeance, then doing so disproportionately just leads to resentment and possible backlash. If the purpose is to prevent further harm, then such massive fines only make life harder on the person, and more likely they'll resort to other crime in the future.

Yeah, I'll admit the government's in a tough place here. File-sharing has become far too commonplace for them to convict everyone who's committed it, but disproportionately punishing a small number of people for it is no better than doing nothing.

Re: U.S. Government Supports RIAA in Supreme Court ...

Thank you for the wonderful parallel. Aka, no need to become bloody monsters to stop behaviors we don't agree with.

 
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