In the latest twist in a saga that has dragged on for seven years, a US federal judge refused to set aside a US$675,000 fine that a jury imposed on a former Boston University student for illegally downloading 30 songs.
In a 12-page ruling Friday, Judge Rya Zobel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts concluded that the jury came to the right decision and she denied Joel Tenenbaum’s motion to have the fine reduced both on common law grounds and on constitutional grounds.
“A damage award must stand unless it is “grossly excessive, inordinate, shocking to the conscience of the court, or so high that it would be a denial of justice to permit it to stand,” Zobel wrote, quoting from a ruling in a previous case.
The US$675,000 award fits into none of these categories because Tenenbaum could have been hit with a much higher fine, Zobel noted. The copyright statutes under which Tenenbaum was sued provides for statutory fines of up to US$150,000 per infringement. The jury’s award of US$22,500 per infringement was at the low end of the range for willful infringement, she said.
“The jury’s damage award was not so excessive as to merit remittitur,” Zobel wrote. The fact that the award is well under the statutory maximum means the award is neither “wholly disproportional,” nor “obviously unreasonable” she said. “It does not offend due process,” she said in denying Tenenbaum’s claim that the fine is constitutionally excessive.
The ruling is sure to prompt another round of appeals from Tenenbaum who has been embroiled in a fight with the music industry since 2005, when he was first accused by six music labels of downloading and distributing hundreds of copyrighted songs using file-sharing networks.
The music companies ended up suing Tenenbaum over a representative sample of just 30 of the songs they alleged he pirated.