RIAA Sues LimeWire For Trillions, Judge Finds Claim ‘Absurd’
More than 18 months after a federal judge ordered LimeWire to disable its filesharing service, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has reportedly filed an astounding $72 trillion lawsuit against the now defunct peer-to-peer filesharing company for enabling the illegal distribution of some 11,000 copyrighted songs.
However, in a ruling filed earlier this month, Judge Kimba Wood of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York called the industry’s lawsuit “absurd” and rejected RIAA’s claim that LimeWire should pay as much as $150,000 for each download of each song from its P2P servers.
The RIAA said that since the courts have identified that some 11,000 songs were infringed upon, and, as each song has been downloaded probably thousands of times, it should be compensated for each individual download.
But given that the $72 trillion figure is 20 percent higher than the gross domestic product of the entire world, it is certainly unlikely that the recording industry would ever see that amount of money.
In a 14-page ruling on the matter, Judge Wood wrote that the plaintiffs’ position on statutory damages “offends the canon that we should avoid endorsing statutory interpretations that would lead to absurd results. If plaintiffs were able to pursue a statutory damage theory based on the number of direct infringers per work, defendants’ damages could reach into the trillions.”
Judge Wood noted that this was the first time a court had been asked to consider whether a copyright holder could claim multiple awards on a single copyrighted work. If this “absurdity” was approved, the amount would be “more money than the entire music industry has made since Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877,” she said.
The RIAA has made a “ridiculous argument,” said Ray Beckerman, a NY lawyer who has represented individuals in RIAA music privacy lawsuits in the past, adding that he was not surprised by the judge‘s ruling.
“The RIAA’s argument was totally absurd, and contrary to the statute,” Beckerman said told ComputerWorld. “Even the RIAA had never made that argument until late in the case. If I were Judge Wood, I would have ordered them to show cause why they should not have been sanctioned for making [such] a frivolous argument.”
Despite the unrealistic and ridiculous claim, Judge Wood said she will permit the RIAA to seek a “single statutory damage award from defendants per work infringed,” meaning LimeWire could still pay up to $150,000 per song, leading to damages of more than a billion dollars.
According to a report from Forbes.com, RIAA claimed that it never asked for $72 trillion, and never even sought a specific amount from LimeWire. In fact, the industry added, it had already reached an out-of-court settlement for $105 million with LimeWire last May, which closed the case.
The $72 trillion figures, according to the RIAA, came from the fact that the industry’s member labels made an extreme request on damages last year, suggesting that every single download should be subject to statutory damages in the LimeWire case. Because the infringement was placed at about $150,000 per song, someone in the system did the calculations and tossed out the $72 trillion figure, and it caught on.
Even if the industry is not asking for $72 trillion, it is unlikely it will ever see statutory damages for each copy of each song downloaded. Even if they were to ask for $5,000 per download, that figure could still jump to an unreachable hundreds of billions of dollars.
Jennifer Pariser, senior vice president of litigation and legal affairs at the RIAA, said in an emailed statement to ComputerWorld that the industry “respectfully” disagrees with the judge’s decision.
“We are confident there are more than plenty of works in this case that will constitute significant damages,” Pariser said. “Even the recent P2P report from NPD strongly reinforces the massive damages caused by LimeWire as the largest illegal P2P service. Its shuttering was a major step forward for artists and music creators who work tirelessly to bring us the world’s greatest music.”
The NPD report Pariser referred to showed that the music sharing via P2P tools has declined since LimeWire was taken down. The report was released this week.