Download damages improper, court rules
NEW YORK - A judge improperly cut the damages assessed against a teenager who downloaded and redistributed thousands of songs from the Web without paying, a federal Appeals Court said.
The US Court of Appeals in Boston yesterday rejected US District Judge Nancy Gertner’s 90 percent reduction of the award and directed her to reconsider whether the jury’s $675,000 penalty against Joel Tenenbaum was excessive.
“We affirm the finding of liability against Tenenbaum and in favor of plaintiffs,’’ US Circuit Chief Judge Sandra Lynch said in the appellate opinion. The panel “rejected Tenenbaum’s arguments that the Copyright Act is unconstitutional.’’
The record industry has suffered billions of dollars of lost revenue since Napster, the original peer-to-peer, file-sharing website for music, appeared in 1999. After Napster was shut down by court order, other file-sharing sites took its place. In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that another file-sharing site, Grokster Ltd., was liable for copyright infringement on a “gigantic scale.’’
Recording companies including Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group Corp., and Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group sued Tenenbaum in 2007 after warning him in a letter that he was infringing their music copyrights. Gertner found him liable for copyright infringement on a sample of 30 songs and scheduled a trial by jury to determine whether the infringement was “willful’’ and what the damages would be.
Under federal copyright law, statutory damages can range from $750 a song to up to $150,000 if the infringement is willful.
The jury in July 2009 awarded damages of $22,500 a song, or $675,000. Gertner cut the penalty in July 2010, calling it “unconstitutionally excessive.’’