Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In Bridgeport v. Justin Combs case, UMG and Universal argued that jury verdict for more than 10 times actual damages was unconstitutional

In the case of Bridgeport Music v. Justin Combs Publishing, UMG and Universal -- two of the most frequent RIAA plaintiffs -- successfully argued that a jury's award of punitive damages in a copyright infringement case, which exceeded the plaintiff's actual damages by a ratio of more than 10:1, was unconstitutional as being violative of due process.

[Ed. note. The jury's award in Capitol v. Thomas exceeded the plaintiffs' actual damages by a ratio of around 23,000:1. But UMG and Universal think that that was just hunky dory. -R.B.]

Bridgeport v. Justin, Brief of UMG and Universal, pp 59-64
Bridgeport v. Justin, Opinion of Court

Commentary & discussion:

Ars Technica

Keywords: digital copyright law online internet law legal download upload peer to peer p2p file sharing filesharing music movies indie independent label freeculture creative commons pop/rock artists riaa independent mp3 cd favorite songs intellectual property


Anonymous said...

What's good for the goose...


Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) said...

Who wants to bet that they'll argue that this isn't relevant to file sharing because the number of copies made is unknown, so we have to assume the worst possible scenario in all cases?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if some of the lawyers defending victims of RIAA here could file a "copyright infringement" case against UMG and Universal for using their work without being paid for it. The arguments they used certainly sound like arguments lawyers have made in other RIAA cases. Certainly there's more merit to that than the cases against innocent victims.

I'm just kidding, of course. Or am I?


Anonymous said...

Expanding on what Justin said - is it possible that RIAA defendants in download claims can use this case to show that the companies that make up the RIAA think that a 10:1 ratio is unconstitutional, but they are trying to get a 25000:1 ratio enforced? It seems to me that the court wouldn't like hypocrites.

- Scott

Anonymous said...

Nothing but self-serving greed showing. Typical for the labels, really- it's why I quit buying from them and largely don't listen to radio anymore these days. Couple this with what is mostly rubbish noise (and I don't mean musical taste differences here...) masquerading as music- they should twig onto the fact that it's not piracy that's the problem, it's themselves. But nooo....

Goobermunch said...


I recently litigated a similar issue with Microsoft, arguing that the statutory damages they were seeking against my client exceeded their actual damages by a factor of approximately 100:1. Sadly the district court judge held that, while punitive damages cannot constitutionally exceed a 10:1 ratio (and probably shouldn't exceed a 3:1 ratio), statutory damages were not similarly constrained.

I think the argument is bogus, but have never had any success convincing a judge of that fact. Somehow, a jury verdict in excess of 10:1 is unconstitutional, but a verdict that is 23,000:1 is not.

Good luck!


raybeckerman said...

As noted in UMG v. Lindor, the Second Circuit feels that statutory damages may well be subject to due process review. Several excellent law review articles on the subject. It's new and evolving, but there is a body of law -- in the jurisprudence involving ASCAP license to taverns and restaurants -- which does in fact subject copyright statutory damages to constitutional scrutiny. The awards are usually in the range of 2 to 4 times the actual damages, so the awards get upheld. But if one came down with 26,000 times the actual damages, as in the Jammie Thomas case, I believe the courts will strike it down pronto.

Another Kevin said...

Alas, the argument that statutory damages are unconstitutionally disproportionate to actual damages faces an uphill battle. The legislative intent of the statute is not to punish, but rather to impose damages in situations (unknown number of unauthorized copies, unknown impact on legitimate sales) where compensatory damages are impossible to assess accurately. Since the intent is not punitive, Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment do not apply, and the case rests on the weak reed of Sixth/Fourteenth Amendment "due process" jurisprudence.