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$1.9 Million Award In Thomas Case Raises Constitutional Questions 439

Techdirt points out that the EFF is examining the constitutionality of the recent $1.9 million verdict awarded in favor of the RIAA against Jammie Thomas. While on the surface it may seem that this excessive award should be easy to overturn since grossly excessive punitive damage awards are considered to violate the Due Process clause of the US Constitution, the Supreme Court seems to have been ignoring precedent and upholding copyright's importance at any cost. "Given the size of the statutory damages award, Ms. Thomas-Rasset's legal team will likely be seriously considering a constitutional challenge to the verdict. A large and disproportionate damage award like this raises at least two potential constitutional concerns. First, the Supreme Court has made it clear that 'grossly excessive' punitive damage awards (e.g., $2 million award against BMW for selling a repainted BMW as 'new') violate the Due Process clause of the US Constitution. In evaluating whether an award 'grossly excessive,' courts evaluate three criteria: 1) the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant's actions, 2) the disparity between the harm to the plaintiff and the punitive award, and 3) the similarity or difference between the punitive award and civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable situations. Does a $1.92 million award for sharing 24 songs cross the line into 'grossly excessive?' And do these Due Process limitations apply differently to statutory damages than to punitive damages? These are questions that the court will have to decide if the issue is raised by Ms. Thomas-Rasset's attorneys."
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$1.9 Million Award In Thomas Case Raises Constitutional Questions

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  • by onyxruby ( 118189 ) <`ten.tsacmoc' `ta' `yburxyno'> on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:09PM (#28393769)
    Didn't the supreme's just set a precedent for excessive damage awards when they whacked the exxon valdez award a couples years back? Why not use that ratio as precedent for all such future damage awards?
  • I'm perplexed by the statement about the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court's jurisprudence in the area of knocking down excessive "punitive awards" is well established, and would most assuredly lead to the RIAA's statutory damages theory being crushed. See amicus curiae brief [], which summarizes and discusses the applicable authorities.
  • by Volante3192 ( 953645 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:45PM (#28394389)

    Yeah, read the McDonald's case.

    They consistantly brewed their coffee at 180F. Industry standard is 140F or so. There were multiple complains their coffee was too hot, dating back years. They were warned repeatedly about this. There was a paper trail. There were prior cases of 3rd degree burns.

    Furthermore, the victim wasn't driving at the time. In the car, yes, but not driving. In fact, she was a passenger and the car was in park.

    So when this case ended, McDonald's was slapped not only for this incident, but for their apathy for ignoring the problem for so long (which is what punitive damages are for: to finally get you to stop ignoring the complains and industry regulations.)

    And sometimes lawsuits are the only ways to get companies to straighten up. Simple calls to Customer Service does nothing. If you want nutritional (heh) info on that chocolate shake, you'll likely have to sue them to actually get the attention of a corporation. Course, that's slightly different than suing them because apparently the fast food place tied you to a chair and force fed you burgers and fries a la the gluttony victim in Se7en... ...Not touching the cat one.

    The courts are really the only route individuals have to get a company to pay attention about an issue. Furthermore, one of the GOOD things about our system is anyone CAN sue anyone else. It's just you've got the burden of actually having to prove your case when it goes to trial.

  • Re:It is not over (Score:3, Informative)

    by rhsanborn ( 773855 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @04:09PM (#28394837)
    The judge didn't assign damages. A "jury of her peers" did.
  • by eln ( 21727 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @04:14PM (#28394931)

    Rosa Parks intentionally broke the law because she was tired and didn't want to walk to the back of the bus. I don't mean to play down the significance of what she did, I'm just saying that court was the farthest thing from her mind at the time.

    "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." -- Rosa Parks

    Please at least try to learn something about what you're talking about before you say something foolish.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @06:01PM (#28396467) Homepage Journal

    You would think so, but these are statutory damages. it's punitive (a punishment decided by Congress(!) to deter others), not compensatory (where the jury tried to figure out how much the record label was harmed, and chose an amount to set things right). Statutory damages are not merely civil court decisions; the legislative branch is neck-deep involved here.

    It's a fine, and Congress did it.

    That's the kind of thing the 8th Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights was specifically created to address.

  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @08:17PM (#28397731) Journal

    Why do you say that. Just open a history book and read it for yourself or you could look up the New York Times, March 3, 1930 issue and read the transcription of Roosevelt's speech concerning the Volstead act in which he states "As a matter of fact and law, the governing rights of the States are all of those which have not been
    surrendered to the National Government by the Constitution or its amendments. Wisely or unwisely,
    people know that under the Eighteenth Amendment Congress has been given the right to legislate on this particular subject1, but this is not the case in the matter of a great number of other vital problems of government, such as the conduct of public utilities, of banks, of insurance, of business, of agriculture, of education, of social welfare and of a dozen other important features. In these, Washington must not be encouraged to interfere." -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1930

    This was 2 years before he became president and went against everything he just said he knew to be true.

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