RIAA, Disproportionate Punishment, and the American Way of Life

Some legal experts question the constitutionality of a $1.92 million fine given to a woman accused of pirating 24 songs. A Minnesota jury ordered Jammie Thomas-Rasset to pay that yesterday, saying she “willfully” violated music copyrights and should cough up $80,000 per illegally downloaded track.

The verdict brings a new twist to a seemingly endless legal battle brought about by the Recording Industry of America (RIAA)….

The size of the fine was guided by U.S. copyright law, which provides for a penalty of anywhere from $750 to $150,000 per violation. It was up to the jury, however, to decide where to land within that spectrum. The problem, von Lohmann says, is that there are no meaningful guidelines on how that decision should be reached….

Here’s where things start to get dicey: The Supreme Court has previously indicated that “grossly excessive” punitive damage awards are a violation of the U.S. Constitution. An award can be considered “grossly excessive” if there’s too big of a gap between the actual harm done and the amount of money being named.

This story isn’t so much about the RIAA as it is about how our legal system works. The better your lawyer, the lower the fine. If you’re poor, you’re screwed. Besides, many jurors are sheep, and are  incapable of judging the law as well as the facts, or even knowing the difference.

Who thinks that this is an equitable punishment? No one of merit is my guess.

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