In Beastie Boys v. Monster Energy Company, 2014 WL 6845860 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 4, 2014), the Southern District of New York found that the jury’s award of $1.2 million in statutory damages to the plaintiff group on their copyright infringement claim was “not so high as to ‘shock the conscience.’”  The court, therefore, rejected the defendant beverage company’s request to reduce that award arising out of its creation and dissemination of a promotional video using portions of five songs composed and recorded by the Beastie Boys without the group’s knowledge or permission.

The court reasoned that the “calculation of damages is in the province of the jury” and only “may be set aside . . . if it is so high as to shock the judicial conscience and constitute a denial of justice.”  Further, the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 504(c), authorized the jury to “award between $750 and $150,000 for each of the 10 [copyrights at-issue (5 for musical composition, 5 for sound recording) since the jury] found that Monster’s conduct was willful.”

In particular, the court explained that it “decline[d] to second-guess the jury’s assessment [of $120,000 per copyright violation] . . . because several factors—including Monster’s state of mind, and the deterrent effect of such an award on Monster and third parties—can fairly be argued to justify a substantial damages award.”  In addition, the court noted that “a comparison with damage awards in other cases bearing some similarity to this one reveals that the award here falls within a reasonable range.”

The Beastie Boys decision highlights how the calculation of statutory damages under the Copyright Act is often left to the discretion of the fact-finder, despite the Second Circuit’s mandate that several factors be considered – (1) the infringer’s state of mind; (2) the expenses saved, and profits earned, by the infringer; (3) the revenue lost by the copyright holder; (4) the deterrent effect on the infringer and third parties; (5) the infringer’s cooperation in providing evidence concerning the value of the infringing material; and (6) the conduct and attitude of the parties.  The court in Beastie Boys did not address either factors (2) or (3).