A Boston University graduate student has appealed a federal judge's order that he pay four record labels $67,500 in damages for illegally downloading music, even though the amount is only a tenth of what a jury said he should pay for copyright infringement on 30 songs.
Joel Tenenbaum, a doctoral student in physics, said today that the reduced damages award that US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner ordered him to pay last month is "equally as insane" as the $675,000 that a federal jury ordered him to pay after a high-profile trial the year before.
"Sixty-seven-and-half thousand dollars only sounds reasonable because it was so much before," said the 26-year-old former Providence, R.I., resident, who added that he would have to declare bankruptcy if forced to pay the reduced award.
His lawyer, Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson, has filed a one-page notice of appeal with the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. He said in an interview that he plans to challenge several rulings Gertner made at trial.
Tenenbaum's decision to appeal comes as little surprise, given that Nesson said his client was inclined to do so hours after Gertner slashed the jury award on July 9. The four record labels have also filed a notice of appeal, as expected.
Immediately after Gertner cut the award, the Recording Industry Association of America, a Washington-based trade group that represents the record labels, issued a statement saying the court had "substituted its judgment for that of 10 jurors as well as Congress" and said it would "contest the ruling."
As further evidence of the rock-solid stances of both sides, Nesson and a lawyer for the record label have also filed a court document saying they will not participate in settlement negotiations, Nesson said.
Tenenbaum is among thousands of people, many college-age and younger, to receive letters in recent years from the RIAA demanding payment for illegal file sharing. The vast majority have settled out of court for $3,000 to $5,000.
Tenenbuam and the four record labels reached no settlement, resulting in only the second illegal file-sharing lawsuit by the music industry to go to trial in federal court.
Under the federal Digital Theft Deterrence Act of 1999, Tenenbaum could have been ordered to pay as much as $150,000 for each song he illegally downloaded and shared online, or a total of $4.5 million, because the jury concluded that the infringements were "willful." The law required that jurors award at least $750 for each infringement. The jury ended up awarding the labels $22,500 for each infringement, or $675,000 total.
But Gertner wrote that that award was "unconstitutionally excessive," in light of what she described as the modest harm caused to the record labels.
The reduced award was "still severe, even harsh," she wrote in a 62-page order.
"It 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," the judge wrote.
At trial, Tenenbaum unapologetically testified that he had illegally downloaded and shared hundreds of songs from 1999 to at least 2007 through peer-to-peer networks. The 30 songs at issue at trial included Beck's "Loser" and Nirvana's "Come as You Are."
The four labels that won the damages award are Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Bros. Records Inc., Arista Records LLC, and UMG Recordings Inc.
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