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Federal court upholds Tenenbaum damages

By | Published on Tuesday 28 August 2012

Joel Tennenbaum

A US federal court last week upheld the $675,000 in damages that one-time file-sharer Joel Tenenbaum must pay the American record industry, with a judge ruling that the figure was “not excessive”.

As much previously reported, Tenenbaum was one of the few people targeted during the Recording Industry Association Of America’s big sue-the-fans lawsuit party last decade to actually let his case get to court. He was accused of sharing 31 songs. He lost his court battle, and was ordered by a jury to pay $675,000 in damages.

But the judge hearing the original case felt that was way too much and tried to cut the damages payment down to size. But she did so on constitutional grounds – arguing that such a high pay out for an act that in itself caused nominal damage to the plaintiffs was unconstitutional, despite it being based on parameters set out in US copyright law – rather than using a more complicated damages review process called remittitur. An appeals court subsequently criticised that judge’s process, and reinstated the $675,000 damages sum.

Tenenbaum’s lawyer, Charles Nesson, tried to take the matter to the US Supreme Court, but it refused to hear the case earlier this year, meaning future appeal efforts are now confined to lower federal courts. More recently, Nesson has been pushing for a new jury trial for his client, but last week Judge Rya W Zobel said no new full court hearing was necessary, because the original jury had appropriately considered the evidence regards Tenenbaum’s actions.

According to C-Net, Zobel also said last week that, despite the original judge hearing the case expressing concerns at the size of the damages sum chosen by her jury, the $675,000 was actually at the lower end of the range allowed by American copyright law for wilful infringement, and that “in light of these factors, a rational appraisal of the evidence before the jury, viewed in the light most favourable to the verdict, supports the damages award”.

Needless to say, the Recording Industry Of Association Of America welcomed the ruling, while Nesson told C-Net he planned a further appeal on behalf of his client. As previously noted, either way, Tenenbaum doesn’t have $675,000 and has previously suggested he’d have to bankrupt himself if that figure stuck.