The US Department of Justice has given government backing to the $222,000 fine slapped on Minnesota woman Jammie Thomas. She was successfully sued by the Recording Industry Ass. of America earlier this year for illegaly sharing 24 songs.
In a brief filed in federal court in Minnesota yesterday, acting assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bucholtz wrote that the penalty is not "so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense".
It's the DoJ's job to defend the constitutional status of laws made on Capitol Hill.
Bucholtz's 20-page document was produced in response to an attempt by Thomas to have the fine ruled unconstitutional. It'll form part of the evidence when the challenge under the Constitution's due process clause is heard in District Court in Minnesota.
Courts have interpreted due process as a call for them to consider "natural justice" and fairness in verdicts and damages.
A Supreme Court constitutional judgement precedent prohibits financial penalties "so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense and obviously unreasonable".
The DoJ submission argues: "Copyrights are of great value, not just to their owners, but to the American public as well. [Federal copyright lawgislation] has consistently included special provisions to ensure significant monetary awards in copyright infringement suits."
US copyright laws give courts powers to award damages of between $750 and $30,000, with a maximum fine of $150,000 for wilful violation.
Thomas' lawyers will argue that the fines of $9,250 per song uploaded to Kazaa are disproportionate to the money the record industry would have coined from legitimate sales.
The DoJ wrote: "Although [Thomas] claims that [RIAA] damages are 70 cents per infringing copy, it is unknown how many other users - 'potentially millions' - committed subsequent acts of infringement with the illegal copies of works that the defendant infringed."
The RIAA is suing a further 26,000 file-sharers. The Thomas case was the first to come to court. ®