1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Tenebaum damages back to starting point

In the see-saw world of US copyright damages for illegal downloading and file-sharing, a federal appeals court has reinstated a 'hefty' $675,000 judgment against Boston University post graduate student Joel Tenenbaum, who admitted to downloading music on Internet file-sharing sites after a judge had reduced the previous jury award at the same level by 90%. The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected Tenenbaum’s assertions that he did not violate copyright protection laws because he was a consumer, not someone looking to make a profit from downloading. The court also vacated the US District Court’s decision to reduce the total charges to $67,500, because Judge Nancy Gertner found the original figure was unconstitutionally excessive. The court instead reinstated the jury’s figure of $675,000 criticising Judge Gertner for disregarding procedure in reducing the award. The case involves 30 infringements of copyright law which attracts maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per violation, or a potential maximum in this case of $4.5 million.

In the other leading case involving single mum Jammie Rasset Thomas (Capitol Records v. Thomas-Rasset) Judge Michael Davis rejected a jury's damages award of $1.9 million through both remittitur and on constitutional grounds, and reduced the award to $54,000. The record labels offered defendant Rasset Thomas a settlement at $25,000but she rejected this, and then the labels appealed the judge determined award and a new trial was convened solely to determine damages. Here the jury awarded $1.5 million. This was again reduced by the judge to $54,000. The RIAA is currently appealing the most recent lower damages figure set by a court in the Eighth Circuit.

Both defendants have said they do not have the means to pay the damages awarded.



Photo: Tenenbaum's lawyer, Harvard law professor Charles Nesson in a fetching turtle-neck sweater.

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