This is the Copyright Law of the United States of America. I am referring to sections 501-504. In these sections of the law, copyright infringement is defined. The parts of the definition that are applicable to file sharing are that only the owner of the copyright can “reproduce the copyrighted work in copies,” and that only the owner of the copyright can distribute copies.
The interpretation of this law depends on whether or not file sharing should be viewed as legal or illegal. If the definition of a copy includes an mp3 file, then file sharers are most likely guilty of copyright infringement. However, the user of the P2P program isn’t actually distributing any copies. The program allows other users to access someone’s files, and download copies of them. Isn’t the downloader the one making the illegal copy? If I left a cassette tape in a room, and someone else came in, made a copy of it and ran away, would I be breaking the law?
Section 504 outlines the amounts of money that infringers should be sued for. It says the infringer should have to pay for “the copyright owner’s actual damages and any additional profits of the infringer.” In this case, the infringer makes no profit, and the actual damages are difficult to determine. The court would need to know how many people downloaded copies of one person’s copyrighted file. It is very possible that this number could be very low. Based on this logic, the lawsuits wouldn’t be very expensive. However, there is a statutory damages clause in the law that allows copyright owners to recover between $750 and $30,000 from the infringer per song, no matter the circumstances. And if the infringement is committed willfully, the maximum amount goes up to $150,000. (These high dollar amounts are a result of the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999. Previously, the range was $500 - $20,000.)
The statutory damages part of the law is one of the main reasons I believe the RIAA lawsuits are unfair. The court should have to determine the actual damages of the infringement, and no arbitrary dollar amount should exist. This part of the law makes it easier for the RIAA to exploit individuals without proof of damages. If a song costs about 99 cents, it is unlikely that one person’s sharing of the file would cause $750 in damages. The government needs to get rid of these statutory damages, or drastically lower the dollar amounts. I find it hard to believe that the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement was passed in 1999, given how arbitrary and high the values are. It must have been pushed for by lobbyists.