I noticed an article in the Chronicle today discussing a major victory for the music industry, in which a woman was ordered to pay over two hundred thousand dollars for her downloading and file sharing activity. Whether or not you think that downloading and filesharing are legal or ethical, I think you can agree that two hundred thousand dollars is a completely obscene financial award. This concerns me because I see larger and larger amounts being rewarded by juries, and I’m not sure if people understand how the legal system is supposed to work.
The way I see it, if someone does something which causes me financial harm, I can sue them in court to recover the damages. Let’s say that someone hits me with a car, causing me to be unable to walk. It is entirely reasonable to sue to cover medical expenses, and compensate me for being unable to work, if I’m employed in an industry which requires me to walk. The lawsuit could also conceivably cover things like wheelchairs and other equipment which I would not have needed if that person hadn’t hit me with a car.
That type of lawsuit seems logical, legal, and even fair. People should pay when they cause someone financial harm, but these insane awards in lawsuits recently are really rather distressing. Should people be rewarded with tens of thousands of dollars for spilling coffee in their laps? No, they should be offered the cost of medical treatment to deal with the burns, if applicable. Should patients who don’t follow their doctor’s advice be allowed to sue for compensation? Hell, no. Should someone who wakes up without a leg when they were expecting heart surgery sue? Of course, because this is an example of a wrongful activity which will cause financial harm.
In this case, I really doubt that this single woman’s actions cost the record industry two hundred thousand dollars. If I had been on that jury, I would have wanted to see solid proof. The intellectual property issue is especially thorny, because there are a lot of issues bound up in which need to be addressed. For starters, I want to know how this jury arrived at this award amount, since it’s patently insane.
When is the lawsuit insanity going to end? Nuisance lawsuits are clogging the court system while malpractice causes rise and people who might genuinely deserve compensation go unserved. I would love to see this issue addressed by the Presidential candidates; tell me, Mr. Kucinich, what are you going to do about nuisance lawsuits if I vote for you?