Collateral Damages: Why Congress Needs To Fix Copyright Law’s Civil Penalties
In most areas of the law, we try to avoid this kind of unfairness [in payouts from civil litigation] and uncertainty by making sure that we tie penalties to the harm caused, with additional penalties where someone seems to have caused harm deliberately. But that’s not what we do when it comes to copyright infringement. The U.S. allows copyright holders to ask for “statutory damages” of $750 to $150,000 per copyrighted work, with no guidelines and few controls over where in that huge range a given case will fall. The result is capricious, unpredictable, and often excessive penalties.