US top court rules on damages in child porn cases

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that victims of child pornography should be able to receive financial compensation from one or more recipients of their paedophile photographs.

But in a five to four decision, the court divided over what portion of the damages should be borne by a single recipient.

In January, the court heard the case of "Amy," whose uncle sexually abused her from the time she was eight years old and posted pornographic pictures of her on the Internet that were downloaded 3,200 times.

Two of the pictures were found in the possession of Doyle Paroline, who the victim is suing for US$3.4 million (S$4.27 million), an amount corresponding to the total cost of psychotherapy and loss of income resulting from the sexual abuse.

A US appeals court in the southern United States found in her favor, but Paroline took the case to the top court.

The nine justices divided into three groups.

A minority, consisting of conservative Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said Paroline should pay nothing at all, because the amount of the damages were arbitrarily set.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor sided with the victim, arguing that Paroline should be made to pay the full amount.

The majority of the justices, however, took a middle course, linking the defendant's liability to the degree of his involvement in the harm the victim suffered.

"Restitution is proper under the statute only to the extent that the defendant's offense proximately caused a victim's losses."

The majority left it up to a lower court to set the amount of the damages, saying it should use its "discretion and sound judgment."

"A court should order restitution in an amount that comports with the defendant's relative role in the causal process underlying the victim's general losses," they said.

The majority said a victim harmed by the combined acts of many people should not be turned away "simply because none of those wrongdoers alone caused the harm."

But it rejected the victim's "severe approach" in this case because "Paroline's contribution to the causal process underlying the victim's losses was very minor."