Statutory Damages and Community Service

There has been much wailing of the amicii (or potential amicii, anyway) of late about statutory damages in copyright cases. Some people will say that the copyright community is only entitled to a few bucks. Some will say that if the government is going to go after Google for antitrust or one of the grown-up kinds of legal problems, the government should continue to ignore the creative folk because Gawd knows you can’t have any dogs or actors at the table. Copyright infringers should be punished, but not that much, because we all know that music has no intrinsic value, and is pretty much worthless. Particularly after let’s call it 10 years of unbridled p2p downloading. If a court requires payment of large statutory damages awards (by anyone, whether it’s, Inc. or individuals), the “music labels” (or “Big Music” or “Big Content” or “Big Google”…no, wait…that last one is wrong, Google’s not big, Google does no evil), the money will never get to the artists anyway because the record companies are all theives. (Unlike YouTube.) So why bother bringing any copyright infringement cases anyway?

Let me make a couple suggestions. First, we in the copyright community do not need the copyhate crowd to tell us who is or isn’t a thief. We’ll handle our own internal fights about money the same way we have for hundreds of years. So it’s none of your business.

But if you don’t like statutory damages, but do believe that these defendants deserve some kind of punishment, just not anything that involves the payment of money, there is an alternative.

Community service.

Now what would be suitable community service for a copyright thief? Something that would help the local creative community. Something that would be somewhat unpleasant, but not as unpleasant as writing a big check.

Say…oh, I don’t know…humping gear?

That would be just capital. I think that it would be highly appropriate for a judge to order these defendants (or defendant’s who couldn’t pay their damages awards) to roadie for local bands.

They could do a service to the well-being of musicians, saving the backs of local bass players. Hump that bass rig up those stairs little infringer. Lift that trap case, tote that Marshall stack.

Now how would a court connect these defendants with the bands that could use their services? I think that all the infringers could show up to their local Guitar Center parking lot and stand around waiting for a band to drive by and pick them up before they play a show. (Or whatever their local music store is.)

Of course, there should be some easy way to know they’re just not some person hanging around the shop (in case that’s not obvious from looking at them). Maybe they could all wear orange jump suits or something. Who knows, I’m sure a judge could come up with something.

Imagine, tell the local bands in Rochester that all they had to do to pick up casual labor for a free road crew was swing by House of Guitars and look for orange jump suits in the parking lot…in say, February. I think that program would find some takers.

And then…since the band would be inviting into its midst people who have been “convicted” of kleptomaniacal tendencies, someone would have to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t steal again. Maybe a club bouncer, tour manager or security for bigger bands?

Oh, yeah.

Those statutory damages might start to look pretty good.

And by the way–all those brave anonymous souls who are so ready to spew the copyhate dogma they learn at their respective colleges or law schools from the copyhate immams–try that argument out on 30 roadies having an early breakfast after a late loadout. And if you do, your musical insurance better be paid up.

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