Thirteen record companies are suing LimeWire LLC, makers of the file-sharing program LimeWire, for as many as $75 trillion, a hilarious sum of money that quite possibly doesn’t even exist. When the companies won a ruling against Lime Wire last May, they requested damages that could now end up totaling the aforementioned ridiculous amount, which is five times our national debt.
The plaintiffs requested damages from $400 billion to $75 trillion and argued that Section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act “provided for damages for each instance of infringement where two or more parties were liable,” which could explain how the total could somehow rise to the $75 trillion, because each “instance of infringement” could technically be counted as each and every separate download.
Judge Kimba Wood made clear in a 14 page opinion that she found the request “absurd” and claims that it stretches copyright laws to their breaking point. She didn’t entirely side with the defendants, though, and said the damages should at least be one damage awarded per work, rather than per instance of infringement, which will still form quite a hefty bill. The defendants seriously-but-humorously note that the “plaintiffs are suggesting an award that is more money than the entire music recording industry has made since Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877.”
There is a broader question raised by the requested LimeWire damages: If any group of litigants could even dare to ask for a fraction of the money, does it mean that copyright law is out of whack? Considering that these laws obviously weren’t written with modern day technology in mind, particularly digitally distributed software, they arguably diverge pretty sharply from the society and technology that they regulate.