A defendant in one of the RIAA’s many file-sharing lawsuit will be able to argue that the damages sought by the RIAA are unconstitutionally excessive. The defendant in question, Marie Lindor, was sued by Universal Music Group in early 2006 as part of the RIAA’s legal campaign against file sharing. In all of the cases that have made it to court so far, the RIAA has sought statutory damages of $750 per song shared, an amount Lindor believes is excessive.
In his ruling, Judge David Trager gave Lindor leave to argue the excessiveness of the RIAA’s $750 figure as part of her defense: "Lindor cites to case law and to law review articles suggesting that, in a proper case, a court may extend its current due process jurisprudence prohibiting grossly excessive punitive jury awards to prohibit the award of statutory damages mandated under the Copyright Act if they are grossly in excess of the actual damages suffered."
Lindor argues that the actual damages suffered by the RIAA are along the lines of 70 cents per song, not $750. The basis for her assertion is the 99¢ per track price for the majority of downloads and from that, the 70¢ the label receives. Even if the plaintiffs are able to prove infringement on the part of Lindor, she believes that the damages should be capped far below the record industry’s figure.
UMG v. Lindor has proven to be case worth watching because of the vigorousness of the defense. Lindor is defended by Ray Beckerman, the attorney who runs the Recording Industry vs The People blog, who is pulling out every stop as the case meanders towards a jury trial sometime in 2007. Beckerman has accused the recording industry of engaging in the use of file-sharing to distribute music to record stations, a charge which the RIAA denied after what appeared to be only a very cursory investigation. Lindor also raises antitrust and conspiracy questions in her defense, accusing the RIAA of engaging "in a conspiracy to defraud the Courts of the United States, by bringing lawsuits against persons who are not known to have infringed copyrights, and to make false and unsupported allegations that the defendants have infringed copyrights."
None of the file-sharing lawsuits brought by the RIAA is known to have gone all the way to trial. In the vast majority of cases, the defendants have either settled with the RIAA, or the RIAA has dropped the suit once it became apparent that the cartel had targeted the wrong person. Should the RIAA have to face off against a defendant in court, we will find out more about the soundness of its legal arguments.