US Govt Urges Judge to Reject Thomas’ Unconstitutionality Claim

When Jammie Thomas was fined $1.92 million for sharing 24 songs, the verdict sent shock waves throughout the world. Thomas’ lawyers then appealed the decision based on a number of factors including saying that the award was unconstitutionally high. Now, the US government, namely the Department of Justice (DoJ), is stepping in to defend the RIAA and urging the judge to reject Thomas’ claim that the award was unconstitutional.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The appeals process takes time. That’s why we haven’t heard much from the Jammie Thomas case in a few months now. Back then, many Americans saw the award of $1.92 million as shocking and another reason to see the copyright laws as a departure from reality. The verdict even made waves during the Canadian copyright consultation as major reason to not go down the lawsuit road while considering new copyright laws.

That’s what, for many, makes this latest development all the more shocking.

According to a legal brief filed by the Department of Justice, the Department of Justice is arguing, “If it is necessary to reach the constitutional question to resolve defendant’s motion, then defendant’s motion should be rejected because Conress’ carefully crafted statute satisfies the Due Process Claus.”

They further argue, “The current damages range provides compensation for copyright owners because, inter alia, there exist situations in which actual damages are hard to quantify. Accordingly, the statutory range specified by Congress for a copyright infringement satisfies due process.”

In other words, they argue that because there is little to no evidence that points to actual harm, the damages should be this high in the first place and, therefor, not unconstitutional to fine a young woman $1.92 million for sharing non-commercial copies of 24 songs.

In short, philosophically speaking, the Department of Justice’s argument is this: Actual damages is hard to show. Congress made a copyright law with a given range of damages. Therefor Thomas cannot claim damages are unconstitutional.

There’s probably hundreds of ways to point out why this argument fails. Saying that actual damages are hard to claim is irrelevant to how constitutional the award is. So premise one doesn’t work. Congress have passed copyright laws, but laws can be overruled by the constitution. If congress passed a law that dictated that no more elections shall be had and the current party must stay permanently in power, the constitution would overrule it. Since the constitution has power over lawmaking, premise two is false. Therefor, the DoJ argument fails miserably here.

The bigger concern here is that this is a plain example of a government backing a few particular corporations. Why is the government trying to interfere in this particular case – especially helping the RIAA gang up on someone who has little to no hope in paying off the $1.92 million award in the first place. One wonders why the RIAA needs the whole government backing their case in the first place? Was it getting difficult to fight in the first place and has to resort to the whole government with their unlimited resources to help win the case?

In any event, the government backing the RIAA in a lawsuit may be more disturbing than the fact that the defendant was fined $1.92 million for sharing 24 songs non-commercially.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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