Boston judge cuts penalty in song-sharing case

A federal judge on July 9 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 “unconstitutionally excessive,” reports the Associated Press. 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 damages. Judge Nancy Gertner 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. The Recording Industry Association of America said it will appeal Gertner’s ruling, adding: “With this decision, the court has substituted its judgment for that of 10 jurors as well as Congress…”

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