Sharing 30 songs online cost this college student $675,000

Like millions of others, Joel Tenenbaum illegally shared music on the Internet in college. And like thousands of others, he was caught by the recording industry, which asked him to pay a few thousand dollars to settle the case, The Washington Post reports. But he’s one of just two individuals who have decided to fight in court rather than settle. The result: a $675,000 judgment for sharing 30 songs. This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the verdict, rejecting Tenebaum’s argument that the amount was so large it violated his constitutional rights. The courts have held that damages that are wildly disproportionate to a defendant’s conduct can violate a defendant’s Constitutional right to due process. But they’ve also set a high bar. In a 1919 case, the Supreme Court upheld $75 judgments against a railroad that had illegally overcharged two customers by 66 cents each. The high court ruled that fines set by statute become unconstitutional only when “the penalty prescribed is so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense, and obviously unreasonable.”

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