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DoJ Defends $1.92 Million RIAA Verdict 386

Posted by Soulskill
from the yes-it's-totally-reasonable dept.
Death Metal points out a CNet report saying that the Justice Department has come out in favor of the $1.92 million verdict awarded to the RIAA in the Jammie Thomas-Rasset case. Their support came in the form of a legal brief filed on Friday, which notes, "Congress took into account the need to deter the millions of users of new media from infringing copyrights in an environment where many violators believe that they will go unnoticed." It also says, "The Copyright Act's statutory damages provision serves both to compensate and deter. Congress established a scheme to allow copyright holders to elect to receive statutory damages for copyright infringement instead of actual damages and profits because of the difficulty of calculating and proving actual damages."
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DoJ Defends $1.92 Million RIAA Verdict

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  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:26PM (#29076845)
    I suppose this is what happens when you appoint a half-dozen ex-RIAA attorneys to top spots in the Justice Department. President Obama assured us that rules were put into place to prevent this sort of activity, but apparently that doesn't matter. Not that I'm the least bit surprised by that. Frankly, I think the Justice Department should have better things to occupy their time than civil lawsuits. That kind of bias ought to be considered malfeasance in office, or something else worthy of immediate dismissal.

    1.92 million dollars for copyright violations by an individual? Now that's Justice for you. Personally, I've never believed that the law should be used to make examples out of people, no matter how distasteful their crimes. That simply breeds more disrespect for the law, which is something the RIAA is apparently unable to understand. They will continue to reap the rewards of that lack of understanding, regardless of what ultimately happens to Jammie Thomas.

    Punishment should fit the crime: otherwise it is just government-sanctioned brutality.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by cdrguru (88047)

      You mention copyright violation by an individual. Well. as soon as it hits a P2P sharing program, it is no longer an individual. It is potentially everone on the planet.

      Of course, the biggest limiting factor is knowledge. iTunes exists because people do not know how to obtain digital goods for free. The folks that know aren't paying any more, so the system is now supported on the backs of the ignorant.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:37PM (#29076931)

        It is potentially everone on the planet.

        Yes it is.. including the old, disabled and those wiithout computers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tynin (634655)

        ...as soon as it hits a P2P sharing program, it is no longer an individual. It is potentially everyone on the planet.

        Except for a little limitation called upstream bandwidth. She very likely only shared these files maybe a few hundred times, well out of proportion for the financial life sentence she was handed.

        • Those layers are dumb as shit, but perhaps not dumb enough to not have heard about Mr. Fibonacci or binary trees (or they might have friends who would sooner or later tell them). That said, the "amortized damage" by an individual is still comparatively minor.
      • by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:48PM (#29077015)

        It is potentially everone on the planet.

        you know; you're so so right. In fact, if you think about it all the people who ever paid for an internet connection helped contribute to this by supporting the infrastructure used for all those people to "potentially" infringe.

        I think everybody who ever used the internet should have to pay at least this much to the RIAA. They have (potentially) suffered so much. In fact, if you think about it, and multiply the number of potential people who could have copied by the number of potential people who could have been copied from by the number of potential songs that could have been copied by the maximum potential statutory damages, I think you'll find that their potential losses must run to more dollars than the number of atoms in the planet. We should just declare them galactic rulers and do their every bidding.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jimicus (737525)

          We should just declare them galactic rulers and do their every bidding.

          Don't give them ideas.

      • by DinDaddy (1168147) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:55PM (#29077069)

        She is only responsible for the copies that people downloaded directly from her. Additional copies downloaded from those people are their responsibility, not hers.

        So yeah, still an individual.

      • by digitig (1056110)

        so the system is now supported on the backs of the ignorant.

        And the ethical. And those nervous of $1.92 million lawsuits.

    • but not surprising.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Department of Justice

      Now there's irony for you.

    • I suppose this is what happens when you appoint a half-dozen ex-RIAA attorneys to top spots in the Justice Department. President Obama assured us that rules were put into place to prevent this sort of activity, but apparently that doesn't matter. Not that I'm the least bit surprised by that. Frankly, I think the Justice Department should have better things to occupy their time than civil lawsuits. That kind of bias ought to be considered malfeasance in office, or something else worthy of immediate dismissal. 1.92 million dollars for copyright violations by an individual? Now that's Justice for you. Personally, I've never believed that the law should be used to make examples out of people, no matter how distasteful their crimes. That simply breeds more disrespect for the law, which is something the RIAA is apparently unable to understand. They will continue to reap the rewards of that lack of understanding, regardless of what ultimately happens to Jammie Thomas.

      What really goes on at DOJ, I can't say, but I will point out the following:

      1. If President Obama's rules are being applied, the six or more ex-RIAA attorneys were recused from dealing with this case, and had nothing to do with the brief.

      2. The brief's arguments are not dissimilar to the arguments made by the Bush administration when they filed their brief on this issue [ilrweb.com] (pdf) in 2007.

      3. In the important Cartoon Networks v. CSC Holdings [beckermanlegal.com] case, the Solicitor General filed a brief which directly contravened [blogspot.com] the positions the RIAA's lawyers had taken in that very case. (See Slashdot discussion [slashdot.org].)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sumdumass (711423)

        1. If President Obama's rules are being applied, the six or more ex-RIAA attorneys were recused from dealing with this case, and had nothing to do with the brief.

        Can those rules actually be followed? I mean the DOJ shouldn't be weighing in on a civil case in the first place but what would you do when you know you bosses have a certain position and they are refrained from acting for some reason outside their own? I mean you still report to them, you still rely on them for performance reviews, raises and s

        • 1. If President Obama's rules are being applied, the six or more ex-RIAA attorneys were recused from dealing with this case, and had nothing to do with the brief.

          Can those rules actually be followed? I mean the DOJ shouldn't be weighing in on a civil case in the first place but what would you do when you know you bosses have a certain position and they are refrained from acting for some reason outside their own? I mean you still report to them, you still rely on them for performance reviews, raises and so on to some extent. You still have to worry about the boss retaliating in some way, can you really isolate them?

          I don't know. I just discovered this [slashdot.org]

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          1. If President Obama's rules are being applied, the six or more ex-RIAA attorneys were recused from dealing with this case, and had nothing to do with the brief.

          Can those rules actually be followed? I mean the DOJ shouldn't be weighing in on a civil case in the first place but what would you do when you know you bosses have a certain position and they are refrained from acting for some reason outside their own? I mean you still report to them, you still rely on them for performance reviews, raises and so on to some extent. You still have to worry about the boss retaliating in some way, can you really isolate them?

          I don't know. I can tell you that guy who signed the brief as the top leading signatory is a content industry lawyer.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      I am not that surprised but a bit disappointed. I thought that with Obama USA was going to take the lead on the issue of copyright in the 21st century. Do not expect many outbreaks from Europe right now. I hope he is just fixing issues by order of priority and that copyright reform is still somewhere on the list.
    • I just learned that the lead signatory on the DOJ's brief has a content industry background and recently recused himself [blogspot.com] in another case.
  • Doesn't Deter Me! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This doesn't deter anybody, because the fine is only $5000 and you have the same odds of being sued whether you own a computer or not. What this does is deter people from FIGHTING the unjust $5000 fine, lest you have to pay .

  • by v1 (525388) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:31PM (#29076889) Homepage Journal

    But it'll make a great deterrent won't it? That's all the excuse we need right?

    morons.

  • I am deterred (Score:2, Interesting)

    I am deterred. Not because of the threat of lawsuit, but because they don't make anything worth downloading.
    • Re:I am deterred (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Spewns (1599743) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:22PM (#29077283)
      I'm deterred as well. Deterred from ever buying movies and music again. I haven't in some time now - ever since this absurd crusade started - and I couldn't be happier. All one needs are public libraries and http://jamendo.com/ [jamendo.com] - there's much better music on here than any of the shit you're generally going to find on major record labels anyway. Why are people still donating money to these machines? You're subsidizing tyranny over your own population.
  • The Eighth Amendment (Score:5, Informative)

    by theverylastperson (1208224) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:37PM (#29076933) Homepage

    Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

    (c) 1791 - The People of the United States. All Rights Reserved.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by amentajo (1199437)

      Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

      <ianal>

      I wish this were true. However, the Amendments to the United States Constitution limit the power of the State. The RIAA made a claim that the value of their foregone earnings is $1.92 million, and after that amount was deemed "accurate", the judge simply awarded that amount in accordance with the claim.

      It's akin to this: Imagine I come up with some awesome, kickass software-product-to-end-all-software-products. This product is so awesome, I sell it for $1.92 million per license, and one of t

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Enforcement of civil penalties lies with the government. How can they legally enforce a judgment which violates the 8th amendment? The fines are, after all, imposed by statute passed into law by Congress.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by amentajo (1199437)

          These are not fines, they are damages awarded to the plaintiff.

          Please refer to BFI, INC. V. KELCO DISPOSAL, INC., 492 U. S. 257 (1989) (link) [justia.com]. One of the holdings of that case was:

          The Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment does not apply to punitive damages awards in cases between private parties; it does not constrain such an award when the government neither has prosecuted the action nor has any right to recover a share of the damages awarded."

          Title 17, Chapter 5, Â504 (c) (2) (link) [cornell.edu] states:

          In a case where the copyright owner sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that infringement was committed willfully, the court in its discretion may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $150,000.

          Thus, in a case of willful infringement, the statutory damages [wikipedia.org] are just that: damages awarded to the plaintiff, in a case between private parties.

  • 8th Amendment (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:39PM (#29076945)

    The 8th amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
    "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

    To the extent that this verdict was punative, it is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL fine in violation of the Bill of Fucking Rights. The Congress and the Judiciary both lack the authority to impose excessive fines. This can only be changed by amending the Constitution which requires ratification from 3/4ths of the States. /Suck it Department of Justice!

    • Good luck with that. The constitution isn't exactly followed today. See (Habeas Corpus, The Federal Reserve, etc etc)

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      No, not really.

      This is because congress and judiciary doesn't really follow the constitution. If they did, welfare would be gone, social security would be gone, Public health care would be a state issue as the federal government has no authority in it.

      Anyways, the term excessive, just like reasonable, and many other terms of importance in the constitution has been changed over time. This is in order to get around that pesky requirement for changing the constitution. It's now a living document that means not

    • There is a bill of fucking rights? Man that is going to get heavily used on slashdot. I didn't know I had the right to fuck, I just assumed it was a priviledge of the wealthy (men) and beautiful (women).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by deblau (68023)
      For years the Supreme Court had little to say with reference to excessive fines. In an early case, it held that it had no appellate jurisdiction to revise the sentence of an inferior court, even though the excessiveness of the fines was apparent on the face of the record.29 In a dissent, Justice Brandeis once contended that the denial of second-class mailing privileges to a newspaper on the basis of its past conduct imposed additional mailing cost, a fine in effect, which, since the costs grew indefinitely
  • Interestingly, the DOJ brief asks the Court not to decide the constitutional question [blogspot.com], requesting the Court to instead decide the issue on "common law" grounds, i.e. whether the award "shocks the conscience".

    Also interesting in the DOJ's brief is that it totally ignores the actual wording and reasoning of the Supreme Court's "due process" jurisprudence concerning "punitive awards", which we have pointed out in the past [blogspot.com]. Presumably Ms. Thomas-Rasset's lawyers will bring this to the Court's attention.
    • by Trifthen (40989)

      This really is a terrible stance by the DOJ. Punitive rulings are blatantly unconstitutional, and effectively punish a person for what others might do. It's also completely pointless. Few, if any, regular people have anywhere near that kind of money. All that will happen if this stands is a time in bankruptcy court, which accomplishes absolutely nothing. They might as well raise the damages to fifty billion dollars under the same logic... considering: if one large amount will deter others, then an even larg

      • This really is a terrible stance by the DOJ. Punitive rulings are blatantly unconstitutional, and effectively punish a person for what others might do. It's also completely pointless. Few, if any, regular people have anywhere near that kind of money. All that will happen if this stands is a time in bankruptcy court, which accomplishes absolutely nothing. They might as well raise the damages to fifty billion dollars under the same logic... considering: if one large amount will deter others, then an even larger amount is even better, right? I honestly don't understand where this is going.

        Maybe this guy [slashdot.org] can tell us.

    • by shentino (1139071)

      How competent are rasset's lawyers anyway?

    • Presumably Ms. Thomas-Rasset's lawyers will bring this to the Court's attention.

      While I would love to agree with you, given their conduct thus far, I am forced to wonder if they will do so. They've done, in the lay opinion of many armchair lawyers here on slashdot as well as many of the actual lawyers here, a piss-poor job of defending their client. It does not help that their client is almost certainly guilty but there are so many things that her lawyers should have done (or at least attempted) but have failed to do which makes me (and probably many others) wonder just what they are

  • Not justice (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Their reasoning is correct in that the only way to make any kind of difference is probably to make an example of a few people, but they are also basically admitting that this is not justice. Have they thought for a second of what would happen to the economy if these kinds of damages actually were to be forced from everyone who has downloaded?
    It is sad to see the Departement of Justice agreeing with something like this.

  • by Gabrill (556503) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @01:47PM (#29077007)

    So in other words, the system is working as designed. If you have a problem with the laws, talk to Congress or the SCOTUS. It never fails to amaze me how our Congress escapes blame for the mess the US has become. Perhaps it's because the only check they have is for our nations one Chief of the Armed Forces (not busy at all . . .) has to proofread all the fine print that 535 corporate-influenced blowhards can vomit out, and decide if these expansive and pork-laden bills will do more good than harm.

    • by pwizard2 (920421) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:07PM (#29077161)

      If you have a problem with the laws, talk to Congress or the SCOTUS.

      Why would congress listen to you, or me, or anyone else except a lobbyist with a lot of money? Individual people are just one vote and bring nothing else to the table. Most everyone on Capitol Hill is either corrupt or already has their own agenda that the wishes of the American people probably don't fit into. SCOTUS is even less accountable than congress is.

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      They are all complicit, especially the congress and democrats. [youtube.com]

      Should I remind us of the TARP legislation and the democrats crying about government money going to pay bonuses when is was in the legislation they passed and they are the ones who put it in the damn thing in the first place.

      Being in congress is a status symbol for some. It isn't about what's done, it's about what they can claim they did. Even when they hopelessly fail like Ted Kennedy's HMOs created in the 1960's in which he is decrying as the r

  • by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:01PM (#29077119) Homepage
    In fact, the same stupid rationale for all draconian anti-drug laws: if you make the punishment really harsh, people won't do drugs. And just look how well it works! Everyone knows there aren't any junkies in New York!
  • Wouldn't it be fun if these congress people were found to be using unlicensed navigation code on their own websites, with the original copyright claim removed along with the author's credit?

    I mean, any website is more or less bound to serve up more than 24 copies. I mean, obviously these congress men and women will gladly pay these damages - it's not like they are unconstitutional or shocks the conciousness, right?

    And again - a disclaimer: Don't go breaking into these people's web servers to do anything ill

  • I believe there is something in the constitution about not 'making an example' of someone. Because it is clearly unjust to the person...
  • by Fished (574624) <amphigory@ g m ail.com> on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:09PM (#29077171)
    As I understand it, isn't the justice department required to act in defense of any law that is being constitutionally challenged? This is just the bizarre ethics of the legal profession... truth be damned, give the best defense (of the unconscionable) that you can.
  • by Stormwatch (703920) <rodrigogirao@@@hotmail...com> on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:12PM (#29077193) Homepage

    "The Copyright Act's statutory damages provision serves both to compensate and deter. Congress established a scheme to allow copyright holders to elect to receive statutory damages for copyright infringement instead of actual damages and profits because of the difficulty of calculating and proving actual damages."

    Damages to WHAT, again? Cry me a fucking river, assholes. They make it sound like someone is actually stealing from someone else... and like copyright is actually a right. Well, no. Go check the US constitution: Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, aka "Copyright Clause". It says copyright exists to promote the progress of science and useful arts.

    See? Copyright is not a right. It is not a property. It is not life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. It is a GOVERNMENT-GRANTED TEMPORARY MONOPOLY. It has a very specific purpose: an incentive to the creation of works of art and science, for the good of society as a whole; the welfare of copyright holders is not - AND SHOULD NOT BE - a concern at all.

    Copyright was never "good" per se, more like a "necessary evil" - it is a temporary hindrance to everyone's access to a work of art or science, in exchange to the very existence of that given work. It is ludicrous to think a century-long copyright is an incentive to the creation of more works, therefore one must assume it must be reformed, reversed to a more sensible; but, frankly, I doubt it fulfills its supposed purpose at any length. Therefore it is simply "evil", and ought to be ABOLISHED.

  • "Congress established a scheme to allow copyright holders to elect to receive statutory damages for copyright infringement instead of actual damages and profits because of the difficulty of calculating and proving actual damages."

    You have to wonder about a statement like that. It's basically an admission that they have no way of knowing how much 'theft' has occurred, if any, so they arbitrarily assign a value based on, what, a guess? Even if this dude somehow managed to serve up 5000 complete songs to oth

  • by ZackSchil (560462) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:18PM (#29077249)

    Piracy should be dealt with in the same way ICAAN dealt with domain tasting. For individuals running a P2P program in which they gain no money from the distribution, $30 per song is plenty for compensation. $100 per song is perfectly fine for punitive damages. If that's not enough money to make up for legal fees, get together with law enforcement and legislators and create a system similar to parking or speeding tickets. That'll keep costs down.

    If I got caught illegally distributing 10 songs and got slapped with a $1300 fine (enough to purchase 100x the number of songs I got for free), I'd think twice about piracy. And that's an amount I can pay off. I keep that much in reserve at all times for car repairs, emergencies, etc.

    1.92 million dollars is some fucking criminal, life-ruining BULLSHIT. Bankruptcy and garnished wages for life is not an acceptable outcome for a truly petty crime.

    Someone needs to get into the next town hall meeting Obama attends and ask this question. Someone needs to get the words in roughly the form I have written here to the president of the United States on a televised, public event.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pour_encourager_les_autres [wikipedia.org]

    "Byng's execution was satirized by Voltaire in his novel Candide. In Portsmouth, Candide witnesses the execution of an officer by firing squad; and is told that "in this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others" (Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres)."

  • by moz25 (262020) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:27PM (#29077333) Homepage

    If copyright law is so easily and repeatedly broken by tens to hundreds of millions of users, then that should be taken as a strong signal that this law is counter to the values of society and inherently anti-democratic.

    Make the law fit reality, not the other way around.

  • Congress established a scheme...

    Truer words have never been spoken...

  • dear D.O.J. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FudRucker (866063) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @02:58PM (#29077621)
    you should really change your name to the Department of Injustice, because what you do has nothing to do with justice and all to do with propping up corporate greed, maybe the Department of Greedy CockSuckers would be a name that would suit you even better...
  • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @03:05PM (#29077665)

    The story seems to suggest that the DOJ said that a $1.92 million was perfectly constitutional. My interpretation of the brief seems that the DOJ did not specifically say that. What the brief said was that DOJ considers statutory damages as envisioned by the Copyright Act as legal and that imposing statutory damages does not violate due process. The amount of the damage, however, is up to the trial court to decide and the DOJ was not going to second-guess the court on the amount. The DOJ only responded to Ms. Thomas' constitutional challenges not the actual award:

    This discussion is not to suggest an answer of whether an award should be remitted in this particular case, but rather to suggest an answer to such a question should precede any resolution of Ms. Thomas' constitutional arguments.

    • The story seems to suggest that the DOJ said that a $1.92 million was perfectly constitutional. My interpretation of the brief seems that the DOJ did not specifically say that.

      While you are correct that it did not specifically say that, it did say that the verdict passes constitutional muster. When it said this:

      This discussion is not to suggest an answer of whether an award should be remitted in this particular case, but rather to suggest an answer to such a question should precede any resolution of Ms. Thomas' constitutional arguments.

      it was referring to a non-constitutional, "common law", ground for setting aside the verdict. It did specifically say that if the Court does not find a "common law" ground for setting the verdict aside, it should let the verdict stand, which is tantamount to saying that the verdict passes constitutional muster, which any honest lawyer knows it does not.

  • by KwKSilver (857599) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @03:26PM (#29077825)
    A posting from today on NYCL's site [blogspot.com] indicates that the lead DOJ lawyer in this opinion has a media industry background. Evidently, he was a partner at a law firm that represented a music publisher's association.
  • Not a Clue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @03:26PM (#29077827)
    Just another reason to throw the whole establishment out -- Democrats and Republicans -- and elect an entirely new government that actually has a clue about how unreasonable this all is. And until that can happen, stop them from committing any more damage on the rest of us. All that never-actually-defined Hope and Change isn't working out at all well from my vantage point.
  • by eldurbarn (111734) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @04:37PM (#29078331)

    Deter? What makes them think it would deter anyone?

    It's like a lottery, in reverse.

    Download & benefit. Download & benefit. Download & benefit.

    Multiply this my thousands... or millions.

    And one poor, unlucky sod gets smacked with a fine for the same kind of money we see in lotteries.

    Do the math. Do you feel lucky?

    Hell, yeah.

Programmers do it bit by bit.

Working...