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Court Reinstates US$675K File-sharing Award

Issued: September 01 2011

Joel Tenenbaum owes major music labels US$675,000. Again.

Tenebaum’s 2009 file-sharing trial resulted in a US$675,000 jury award for the music labels, which Judge Nancy Gertner then cut to US$67,500, declaring that the original award against the Boston University student was so high that it violated the US Constitution. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) appealed the decision, and in September, the US First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Gertner need not have relied on the Constitution to reduce the award, but instead should have simply reduced the award through remittitur, which allows judges to lowering the amount of damages granted by a jury in a civil case, often because the award was considered excessive.

US Circuit Chief Judge Sandra Lynch, writing for the majority, reinstated the US$675,000 award, noting that Gertner “should first have considered the nonconstitutional issue of remittitur, which may have obviated any constitutional due process issue and attendant issues. Had the court ordered remittitur of a particular amount, Sony would have then had a choice. It could have accepted the reduced award. Or, it could have rejected the remittitur, in which case a new trial would have ensued.”

The RIAA applauded the decision in a Twitter posting by Jonathan Lamy, senior vice president of communications for the RIAA, who wrote “We’re pls’ed the crt agreed that the finding of liability was correct and that the d crt erred in finding the verdict unconst.”

Tenenbaum’s lawyers had argued that the Digital Theft Deterrence Act and copyright laws were never expected to target individual consumers; the recording industry said that the economic impact of illegal downloading is greater than the sharing of one song.


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