Jul 10, 2010 4:59 PM by Chris Welty
BOSTON (AP) - A federal judge on Friday drastically trimmed a
$675,000 verdict against a Boston University graduate student who
was found liable for illegally downloading and sharing 30 songs
online, saying the jury damage award against a person who gained no
financial benefit from his copyright infringement is
Joel Tenenbaum, from Providence, R.I., was sued by some of the
largest music companies who said he violated copyright rules. He
admitted in court to downloading songs between 1999 and 2007. The
jury found him liable and assessed the damage award last July.
His lawyers appealed, calling the award "severe" and
"oppressive" and asking the court for a new trial or reduced
Judge Nancy Gertner on Friday cut the damage award to $67,500 -
three times the statutory minimum - and said the new the amount
"not only adequately compensates the plaintiffs for the relatively
minor harm that Tenenbaum caused them; it sends a strong message
that those who exploit peer-to-peer networks to unlawfully download
and distribute copyrighted works run the risk of incurring
substantial damages awards."
Gertner also denied Tenenbaum's request for a new trial.
"There is no question that this reduced award is still severe,
even harsh," Gertner said, noting that the law used by the jury to
penalize Tenenbaum did not offer any meaningful guidance on the
question of what amount of damages was appropriate.
"Significantly, this amount is more than I might have awarded
in my independent judgment," Gertner said. "But the task of
determining the appropriate damages award in this case fell to the
jury, not the Court."
Gertner warned that the fact that she reduced the award does not
mean that Tenenbaum's actions are condoned or that wholesale
file-sharing in comparable circumstances is lawful.
Still, Tenenbaum said he was happy the court recognized that the
jury award was unconstitutional and trimmed it to about $2,250 per
song, but he said he also cannot afford paying the reduced damages.
"I still don't have $70,000 - and $2,000 per song still seems
ridiculous in light of the fact that you can buy them for 99 cents
on iTunes," Tenenbaum said. "I mean $675,000 was also absurd."
But the Recording Industry Association of America was not
sympathetic, saying that the group will appeal the court ruling.
"With this decision, the court has substituted its judgment for
that of 10 jurors as well as Congress," RIAA said in a statement.
"For nearly a week, a federal jury carefully considered the
issues involved in this case, including the profound harm suffered
by the music community precisely because of the activity that the
defendant admitted engaging in," according to the RIAA statement.
Gertner also said that her decision to trim the punitive damage
award is in line with previous court decisions to curb excessive
jury awards that targeted businesses.
"For many years, businesses complained that punitive damages
imposed by juries were out of control, were unpredictable, and
imposed crippling financial costs on companies," Gertner said.
"In a number of cases, the federal courts have sided with these
businesses, ruling that excessive punitive damages awards violated
the companies' right to due process of law."
"These decisions have underscored the fact that the
constitution protects not only criminal defendants from the
imposition of 'cruel and unusual punishments,' but also civil
defendants facing arbitrarily high punitive awards," Gertner said.
Gertner's decision comes more than five months after a federal
judge in Minneapolis also drastically reduced a nearly $2 million
verdict against a woman found liable last year of sharing 24 songs
over the Internet, calling the jury's penalty "monstrous and
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis also reduced the $1.92 million
penalty a jury imposed against Jammie Thomas-Rasset to $2,250 per
song, or about $54,000.