Many are aware of the RIAA’s landmark $1.9M judgement against Jammie Thomas this past week, and many are rightfully outraged at the fact this amount of statutory damage was claimed for 24 songs in her upload folder.

I’d say the main issue at hand isn’t the RIAA’s methods or the copyright system on the whole, but the system of statutory damages. These types of damage award money for theoretical, rather than actual losses.

Here’s a couple of examples…
Actual loss: you stole a sandwich from me. I’m hungry now because I don’t have it anymore.
Statutory loss: I sell sandwiches. I see you giving a sandwich away down the block. I assume that person normally would have paid me for a sandwich but you stepped in and messed up my business model. Jerk.

Notice that the latter assumes that person would have paid for the product. Recent data asserts that lost sales only make up a small percentage of those who bootleg music. Were it not available, they would just do without it. But I digress.

Let’s examine what might actually come of this ridiculous judgement:

1) The RIAA tries to collect, meets a supreme court challenge, and gets smacked down for going against precedents for this abuse of the statutory damage system

2) The RIAA decides to “be nice” and only fine Thomas for the ~8K they normally extort. Maybe cover some court costs even to smooth out the bad press.

See the problem? No matter what happens in this case; it’s not going to provide any kind of closure to the music sharing debate. The larger the judgement, the bigger the PR nightmare for the recording industry. I’m guessing they’ll half heartedly attempt option #2 but screw it up somehow, if you want to put some money on it.

Today at a major Music Education panel, the idea was brought up that the RIAA needs to disband. I’ve always known music educators to be particularly careful with copyright issues, but it seems no one is left to defend the RIAA but themselves.

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.