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Richard J. Lambert was named by Best Lawyers® as a 2021 Corporate Law “Lawyer of the Year.”

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What’s the real damage of file sharing to the music industry?

Getting something for nothing seems like a great deal to cash-deprived music fans, many of whom are all too happy to click a mouse to illegally download a digital file of a recorded song. The same people, in most cases, would never dream of walking out of a music store with a shoplifted CD of recorded music in their clothes. However, in many cases, these individuals fail to recognize that illegal downloading constitutes the theft of copyrighted intellectual property just as much, even if done from the comfort of their own home.

In May 2011, a lawsuit by the Recording Industry Association of America and its member recording labels was filed against online file-sharing portal Limewire and resulted in a settlement of $105 million in damages. Penalties for illegal downloading can range up to $150,000 per download in instances of willful infringement, with lesser penalties imposed in most instances.

Some news reports have ridiculed the claims for damages that the RIAA made in the Limewire case, exaggerating its demands by claiming that the recording industry was seeking $72 trillion in damages. The RIAA noted, in seeking a correction of those reports, that it had, in fact, never sought a specific amount from Limewire, but instead sought to have the actual damages assessed.

The lawsuit ultimately revolved around the issue of illegal downloading of 5,000 copyrighted digital songs. Even if the maximum penalty for willful infringement had been applied, $150,000 per download, the damages would have amounted to $750 million, rather than the fantastical $72 trillion reported in some media outlets and used to ridicule the infringement claims.

The settlement of the lawsuit against Limewire has not resolved the overall issue, but perhaps it will deter some other unscrupulous businesses from facilitating copyright infringement.

Source: Forbes, “The RIAA: Do Not Believe a Word They Say, Ever, For They’re Claiming $72 Trillion in Damages,” Tim Worstall, May 24, 2012

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