Judge cuts man’s penalty for il­licit down­loads by 90%, to $2,250 a song

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS -

BOS­TON — A fed­eral judge on Fri­day slashed 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 “un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally ex­ces­sive.”

Joel Te­nen­baum of 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 “se- vere” and “op­pres­sive” and ask­ing the court for a new trial or re­duced dam­ages. Judge Nancy Gert­ner de­nied the request for a new trial.

Gert­ner cut the award to $67,500 — three times the statu­tory min­i­mum and about $2,250 per song — and said the new 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.”

“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.

Te­nen­baum said he was happy the court rec­og­nized that the jury award was un­con­sti­tu­tional, but he said he also can­not af­ford to pay 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,” he said. “I mean, $675,000 was also ab­surd.”

The Record­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica said the group will ap­peal the rul­ing. “With this de­ci­sion, the court has sub­sti­tuted its judg­ment for that of 10 ju­rors as well as Congress,” RIAA said in a state­ment.

Gert­ner said that her de­ci­sion is in line with pre­vi­ous court de­ci­sions to curb ex­ces­sive jury awards that tar­geted busi­nesses: “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’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 shock­ing.”

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis re­duced the $1.92 mil­lion penalty against Jam­mie ThomasRas­set to $2,250 per song, or about $54,000.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.