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Justice Department Argues for Stiff Fines for Copyright Violations

Posted by prof e on January 22, 2010

In a legal brief filed this week the Obama administration argued that a judgment of $675,000 for copyright infringement is not unconstitutional. The defendant, Joe Tenenbaum, is accused of illegally sharing 30 tracks. In their argument the DOJ recognized that the stiff penalties serve the purpose of deterring millions of users from taking a chance when it comes to file sharing and illegal downloading. The DOJ earlier supported a $1.92 million fine against Jammie Thomas-Rasset for sharing 24 tracks.

Of more than 18,000 individuals sued by the Recording Industry Association of America since 2003, only Tenebaum and Thomas-Rasset opted for a jury trial. The others simply paid four-figure settlements rather than face litigation and the risk of huge damage awards.

Because of a public relations backlash, the RIAA discontinued its campaign to prosecute illegal file sharing in December of 2008. Instead they have begun working with ISPs who, they hope, will provide disincentives for those who share files illegally.


5 Responses to “Justice Department Argues for Stiff Fines for Copyright Violations”

  1. Justin said

    The problem with our copyright system is that it was set up with two types of infringement in mind. Personal infringement was never considered much of a threat (until digital sharing came along), so there was little punishment attached to that (and in fact it’s explicitly allowed based on the laws that put a tariff on “music” writable CDs). On the other hand you had commercial infringement, which was considered very egregious… carrying very stiff fines for doing so because A) you were a business; B) you were doing it to make money; and C) you should know better.

    Because the personal infringement enforcement methods kind of fall down in the digital age, we’re stuck using the commercial infringement enforcement methods against what really is personal-use infringement. Which is why you’re seeing hundreds-of-thousand-to-million-dollar settlements against people who have no ability to pay them. That’s a losing proposition for both the RIAA and the accused… and that probably had more to do with them stopping their silly lawsuits than the backlash (the RIAA has made it pretty clear they don’t care much at all for popular opinion). They’re spending how much (probably in the tens of thousands at least to sue these people and when they win the defendant is just going to declare bankruptcy and walk away. The RIAA still has to pay their own legal fees.

    Our copyright system is fundamentally broken because it was never intended to do what big-IP is trying to force it to do. I agree with protecting IP (though I’m in the “for a limited time” camp with the people who wrote the original law), but the system needs a serious overhaul… not just big awards (that’ll never be collected).

  2. sebersole said

    Update: A federal judge in Minnesota today reduced Jammie Thomas-Rasset’s fine from $1.92 million to a mere $54,000. She has vowed to continue to appeal her fine.

  3. Lauren Dominick said

    I think that people are taking the copyright laws way out of hand. As long as there are websites that are allowing you to download music for free, it’s going to be done. You can’t prosecute the people that download it when in their mind they may not know it’s illegal. How about the people that are actually putting the music on those sites? Why are they not being fined? I think it’s time the court systems start looking at the right people for the crimes that are being committed.

  4. Lacey Chesser said

    I think the people that run the websites should be prosecuted. If there are no sites, then there is no downloading. If the sites go away then people will start buying music again instead of getting free from the hundreds of sites that give it away

  5. Vickie said

    Everyone knows at least one person that downloads music illegally. Personally, I pay for my music because I respect the process and the artists that go through all the trouble to create that one song. (I’m not saying people that download music without paying for it don’t have respect just to make that clear.) Although it may be extremely expensive after countless songs, it still is cheaper than the prices people have to pay after being prosecuted. If someone is downloading thousands of songs and then selling copies or CDs to others and making a profit then yes, they should be charged a ridiculous amount. But 24 songs? That’s just extreme. I agree that the websites should be the ones held responsible and ultimately shut down but what is the difference if I record the song from the radio playing it? Music is shared through so many different ways anymore that its hard to examine every case of copyright infringement. What I am trying to say is that if someone wants one silly little song then let them have it. Only huge crimes on the issue should be prosecuted. There are much bigger issues in the world.

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