The Unites States Government has submitted a brief to the Supreme Court asking it to uphold the $220,000 verdict in the RIAA vs. Thomas file-sharing case. According to the Obama administration damages of $9,250 per song is not an unconstitutional amount and is in fact needed to deter others from engaging on online piracy.
The extended legal action between the RIAA and Jammie Thomas has been dragging on for more than half a decade, and is currently with the Supreme Court.
The case is best known for being the first major file-sharing case in the US concerning the P2P activity of a regular user and the vast swings in damages awarded over multiple court hearings.
The court of appeal reinstated the original $222,000 award in September after which the case headed to the Supreme Court.
In the Supreme Court the defense team argued that the $9,250 statutory damages award per shared song (24 in total) is unconstitutional. According to Thomas’ lawyers the damages are out of proportion and not in line with any harm the RIAA labels have suffered.
The RIAA disagrees, and they are not alone.
The Obama administration has now chimed in, most likely because this is the first file-sharing case to make it to the Supreme Court. The outcome of the appeal will set a strong precedent for future cases, and in a brief filed on Monday the U.S. informed the Court its position.
In the brief the Government backs the RIAA and asks the Supreme Court to keep the current $220,000 verdict intact.
Among other things, the administration emphasizes that punishing damages are needed to deter others from engaging in online piracy.
“An award of statutory damages under the Copyright Act does not simply redress a private injury, but also serves to vindicate an important public interest,” the brief reads.
“That public interest cannot be realized if the inherent difficulty of proving actual damages leaves the copyright holder without an effective remedy for infringement or precludes an effective means of deterring further copyright violations,” it continues.
Although the Obama administration is not part of the case, it has the right to ask the Court to accept its opinion, just like any other third party. By doing so the Government wants to make sure that file-sharers aren’t able to walk away with a token fine of a few hundred dollars.
RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy previously told TorrentFreak that this deterrent function is one of the main reasons why the music labels started their file-sharing lawsuits.
“I remember sitting in a focus group of college students and the moderator kept asking the students what would it take them to stop downloading illegally: more than one said, ‘You have to sue me or my roommate. We need to see first hand that getting caught could lead to trouble’,” Lamy said.
The RIAA eventually targeted about 35,000 people in their litigation campaign, and the Thomas’ case is one of the last remaining.