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Downloaded a song? Cough Up $80,000, You Criminal Scum

June 20th, 2009

In what was probably music to the RIAA’s ears, a jury found in its favor and awarded it $1.9 million in damages in a file sharing retrial in Minnesota.

The bad news for the RIAA, even if they don’t realize it or don’t care, is that this verdict makes them look far worse then they ever did previously, which is saying a lot.

First, the evildoer they have crushed is a single mother of four. So, not exactly the poster girl for evildoers. She is low-income, so she is not likely to be able to pay even a fraction of the fine. Then there is the idea that this penalizes her kids just as it does her, and considering the relatively pedestrian nature of the “crime,” it comes across as chopping off someone’s hand for stealing a piece of penny candy. No, for stealing the discarded wrapper of a piece of penny candy.

Second, the judgment was so outrageous that most people will recoil: $80,000 per song, or $1,920,000. For downloading 24 songs, and maybe a few people downloaded them from her. Actual damages to the RIAA, at most, were probably well under a hundred bucks. Hard to imagine how the jury didn’t gag on that verdict–one can only assume that they were simply following a set of rules and did not allow reason to interfere.

And third, the verdict is likely to cause a legal challenge more powerful than before, under the proposition that such an award is “grossly excessive.” You can be sure that we haven’t seen the last of this case yet. After all, this was a retrial–the first trial ended with a $220,000 award for the RIAA, but the case was thrown out because the judged ruled that award to be “wholly disproportionate,” “unprecedented and oppressive.” The new punitive damages are roughly a hundred thousand times the actual damages. Frankly, I find the minimum penalty of $750 per song to be excessive–no doubt carrying the force of law only because RIAA lobbyists bribed enough congressmen.

With luck, a challenge will rule the standing law to be unconstitutional–the Eighth Amendment says, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” How many people think that an $80,000 fine for downloading a single $1 song is not excessive? In fact, the law allows for $150,000 per song. Perfectly reasonable, right?

But one can be fairly confident that the folks over at the RIAA are smugly patting themselves on the back right now, because they don’t give a crap about any of the above. What they wanted was to scare the hell out of file sharers, making it easier to shake them down, and to scare people into buying the overpriced music they monopolize. That they took someone who was about as inoffensive as they get and derailing their life, crushing them for a petty offense, means nothing to them. This verdict is likely to frighten more people into caving to the RIAA’s extortion and coughing up thousands of dollars to avoid this kind of trial–despite there being no real evidence that they did anything wrong.

One can only suppose that the RIAA has given up on presenting any semblance of having any good will or image; they have likely decided that people need their music, even if they have to buy it from scum-sucking fascist fat cats.

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