Last year, a Boston University grad student was whacked with a court order to pay $675,000 damages for downloading 30 songs illegally and sharing them on a P2P network.
This week, a US District Court agreed with defendant Joel Tenenbaum's claim that the amount determined by the jury was "unconstitutionally excessive" and slashed the damages award to four record labels by 90 per cent to $67,500. This works out at $2,250 per infringed work, three times the statutory minimum.
Which is nice. But Tenenbaum, 26, can't afford to pay the lower amount. "It's basically equally unpayable to me," he told the Boston Globe.
In her ruling Judge Nancy Gertner, who presided over the original trial, wrote: “There is no question that this reduced award is still severe, even harsh. 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."
That seems to hit the right note - but the Globe is calling Gertner's order a "major setback for the recording industry". And judging from the hissy fit from the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA), the music industry sees this in a similar light.
In a statement to the Globe, the RIAA said the court has "substituted its judgment for that of 10 jurors as well as Congress [and ignored the] profound economic and artistic harm to the recording industry that occurs when people illegally share songs online". It says it will contest the ruling but doesn't say if that means an appeal.
Lastly, let's not forget the reason why the jury awarded such huge damages against Tenenbaum in the first place. They were pissed off by the student's eccentric and incompetent defence masterminded by Charles Nesson, co-founder of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. ®