Supreme Court lets stand student's $675,000 penalty for downloading

May 21, 2012
Originally published on May 21, 2012 9:16 am

Without commenting on the merits of the case, the Supreme Court this morning let stand a $675,000 jury verdict against a 25-year-old Boston University student who downloaded 30 songs nearly a decade ago and then shared them with others on a peer-to-peer network.

The court denied Joel Tenenbaum's "write of certiorari," which means his appeal of a lower court's ruling and the judgment were turned down.

Bloomberg News reminds us that:

"The Recording Industry Association of America, acting on behalf of major record labels, sued more than 12,000 people and sent notices to thousands of others it claimed were illegally sharing music. The industry said it lost billions of dollars of revenue.

"Tenenbaum and a woman from Minnesota took their cases to trial, and both lost. An appeals court plans to hear arguments in the Minnesota case in June. The industry group filed the claims before 2008, when it adopted a different strategy to combat illegal downloading."

Tenenbaum tells his side of the story at his Joel Fights Back website. He says he's part of an effort to defend "the average Davids against the corporate Goliath."

Wired says "the significance of Monday's action by the Supreme Court ... appears to be minimal in the music-sharing context. The RIAA has abandoned its litigation campaign and instead is working with internet service providers to warn file sharers or kick them off the internet if they repeatedly engage in online copyright infringement."

More interesting from a legal standpoint, says Wired, is the issue of whether a lower court judge erred by reducing the judgment to $67,500. That decision was later reversed — reinstating the $675,000 verdict. "Whether judges ultimately have the authority to reduce damages awards in Copyright Act cases, even those not involving music tracks, is another unanswered story," Wired writes. "The Supreme Court on Monday declined to answer that question."

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