A woman has been found liable for copyright infringement by a Federal court in Minnesota, and ordered to pay $80,000 per song that she was found to have illegally shared on the Internet. In total, she must pay the record industry $1.92 million dollars. The reason she must pay $80,000 per song is because Federal law currently has a “statutory damages” provision that allows copyright holders to be awarded a set amount of money, regardless of the actual damages that they suffered. This is why the woman is being ordered to pay $80,000 per song when she could have purchased the songs for a few dollars, or less. I think this case illustrates the need for Congress to do away with statutory damages awards in Copyright law.
The law must be proportional to the wrong committed. We do not execute a shop-lifter because the wrong that he has committed is not great enough to merit that level of restraint. (“Probation” is sufficient to allow the state to monitor him for a period of time, and ensure that he doesn’t get into more trouble.) The risk that the shop-lifter poses to the rights of others is minimal, and the chance that he will reform his behavior is great. (It should be noted that if this woman had stolen these songs out of the store, she would get less of a punishment than she is receiving in civil court by being ordered to pay $1.92 million dollars.) Furthermore, the purpose of the civil court system is to make the victim whole with money compensation -to provide reparations- not to punish the wrongdoer. This means that the record companies are entitled to an award of their actual damages in the case (plus attorney’s fees) -not an arbitrarily high amount of money that serves no purpose other than to arbitrarily aggrandize the record companies’ wallets and frighten people that may be wrongly accused of file-sharing into settling for fear that they may get a $1.92 million dollar judgment against them.