Colin Morrissey


Record labels have brought thousands of copyright infringement lawsuits against individuals engaged in the online downloading and distribution of music. As these lawsuits work their way through the court system, a debate has emerged over the constitutionality of the large statutory damage awards some juries have awarded. In arguing that the copyright statute results in unconstitutional damage awards, commentators as well as defendants accused of copyright infringement contend that courts should apply the rigorous standard of review for punitive damages that the U.S. Supreme Court adopted in BMW of North America v. Gore to find large statutory damage awards unconstitutional. But the record labels and numerous commentators maintain that Gore has no place in the review of statutory damages. They instead argue that the deferential review the Court outlined in St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway Co. v. Williams is the proper standard, and that under this standard, statutory damage awards are constitutional. This Note seeks to resolve the conflict over the proper standard of constitutional review for statutory damages in copyright infringement lawsuits. It concludes that courts should apply the Williams standard to statutory damages because of the substantial differences between statutory and punitive awards, but they should apply it more rigorously than in the past to ensure that all statutory damage awards for copyright infringement satisfy due process.

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