RIAA thinks LimeWire owes $75 trillion in damages

The music industry says the site should pay for copyright infringement on 11,000 songs. Even the judge thinks that's insane.

The music industry wants LimeWire to pay up to US$75 trillion in damages after losing a copyright infringement claim. That's right . . . $75 trillion. Manhattan federal Judge Kimba Wood has labeled this request "absurd."

You're telling me. To put that number into perspective (I bet a lot of you didn't even know "trillion" was a real number), the U.S. GDP is around 14 trillion -- less than one fifth of what the music industry is requesting. Heck, the GDP of the entire world is between 59 and 62 trillion. That's right, the music industry wants LimeWire to pay more money than exists in the entire world.

Popular file-sharing service LimeWire was shut down last October, after Judge Wood found them liable for copyright infringement in May 2010.

According to Law.com, the RIAA and the 13 record companies that are suing LimeWire for copyright infringement have demanded damages ranging from $400 billion to $75 trillion, and have claimed that Section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act allow them to request damages for each instance of infringement where two or more parties were liable. In other words, the RIAA thinks it should be entitled to damages not only for the individual works, but for every time that work was infringed (i.e. downloaded by another user).

At the moment, about 11,000 songs have been identified as "infringed" material, and each song probably has probably been downloaded thousands of times. The RIAA thinks it should be compensated for each individual download.

Judge Wood disagrees. In a 14-page ruling (PDF), Judge Wood said that the music industry is entitled only to a "single statutory damage award from Defendants per work infringed," for several reasons, including "Absurd Result." According to the document, the "Plaintiffs' position on statutory damages also offends the 'canon that we should avoid endorsing statutory interpretations that would lead to absurd results.'"

The document goes on to read: "As it stands now, Defendants face a damage award that 'could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not over a billion dollars.'"

Judge Wood also points out that "if one multiplies the maximum statutory damage award ($150,000) by approximately 10,000 post-1972 works, Defendants face a potential award of over a billion dollars in statutory damages alone. If Plaintiffs were able to pursue a statutory damage theory predicated on the number of direct infringers per work, Defendants' damages could reach into the trillions. As Defendants note, Plaintiffs are suggesting an award that is 'more money than the entire music recording industry has made since Edison's invention of the phonograph in 1877.'"

This "absurd results" clause isn't anything new, Judge Wood points out. She mentions the 2010 Arista Records LLC v. Usenet.com, Inc. case, in which Arista Records requested the court calculate the damages by multiplying the maximum amount of damages ($150,000) by the number of infringements (878), or $131,700,000. The court found the defendants liable for $6,585,000, by multiplying the number of infringements by $7,500.

Unfortunately, this still isn't great news for LimeWire -- while Judge Wood says the music industry is entitled to only a single statutory damage award per infringed work, there are still 11,000 works. That means LimeWire could still be liable for damages in excess of one billion.

Follow Sarah on Twitter (@geeklil) or at sarahpurewal.wordpress.com and Today @ PCWorld on Twitter.

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Tags webcopyrightintellectual propertyweb legal issueslegalRecording Industry Association of AmericainternetLimeWiremusic & video sharing

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