Following on Ben’s post earlier about the closure of Limewire and its effect on illegal filesharing, a note about the damages ruling recently issued by the judge in the Limewire case, judge Kimba Wood of Manhattan federal district court. Judge Wood rejected the plaintiff record companies’ demanded damages, as reported here. The plaintiffs’ damages request would have reached as high as $75 trillion under their theory of statutory recovery for copyright infringement. Judge Wood noted that this amount is "absurd" and is “more money than the entire music recording industry has made since Edison's invention of the phonograph in 1877.” Rather than assess damages for each instance of infringement, as requested by the plaintiffs, she limited damages to one damage award per infringed work.
While her reasoning makes practical sense in consideration of the fact that the astronomical damages sought by the plaintiffs could not possibly be satisfied by defendant payouts, it nonetheless creates a situation where plaintiffs winning infringement claims on a “smaller” level are able to maximize their damages with damage awards for each instance of infringement, but plaintiffs whose works have been infringed countless times by a defendant are limited in their recovery to prevent “absurd” damages. Is such a result fair or does it dilute the deterrent factor intended by the availability of statutory damages?