Judge Nancy Gertner of the District of Massachusetts has cut the damages verdict against copyright infringer Joel Tenenbaum for illegally downloading and distributing songs by 90 percent, to $67,500.
In a Friday order in Sony BMG Music Entertainment v. Tenenbaum, Gertner slashed the jury's award from $22,500 for each of 30 songs Tenenbaum was found to have willfully infringed, or $675,000, to $2,250 per song.
In a 62-page order, Gertner called the jury's award "wholly out of proportion with the government's legitimate interests in compensating the plaintiffs and deterring unlawful file-sharing." Gertner also concluded that the award could not withstand scrutiny under the U.S. Constitution's due process clause.
"The fact that I reduce this award, however, obviously does not mean that Tenenbaum's actions are condoned or that wholesale file-sharing in comparable circumstances is lawful," Gertner wrote. "I have determined that Tenenbaum's conduct was not "fair use" and that it infringed the plaintiffs' copyrights. Furthermore, the jury's award, even as reduced, is unquestionably severe and is more than adequate to satisfy the statutory purposes and the plaintiffs' interests."
"We feel vindicated that Judge Gertner agreed that $675,000 was unconstitutional," said Tenenbaum's attorney, Harvard Law School professor Charles Nesson, in an e-mailed statement. "But it is only a small step along the way toward recognizing the abusiveness of the [Recording Industry Association of America]'s litigation campaign."
In a statement, the Recording Industry Association of America stated that "the court has substituted its judgment for that of 10 jurors as well as Congress." The statement continued: "For nearly a week, a federal jury carefully considered the issues involved in this case, including the profound harm suffered by the music community precisely because of the activity that the defendant admitted engaging in. ... The judge appropriately recognized the egregious conduct of the defendant, including lying to the court about his behavior, but then erroneously dismisses the profound economic and artistic harm caused when hundreds of songs are illegally distributed for free to millions of strangers on file-sharing networks. We disagree with court's reasoning and analysis, and we will contest this ruling."
A record company lawyer on the case, Timothy Reynolds of Denver-based Holme Roberts & Owen could not immediately be reached for comment.