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Robertson facing $41 million damages bill from MP3tunes case

By | Published on Thursday 27 March 2014

Michael Robertson

Ah, American juries and the copyright damages they award. So, Michael Robertson, having lost the most recent instalment in his long running legal battle with EMI over his now defunct digital locker service MP3tunes and its sister service, has been ordered to pay the music industry in the region of $41 million for the copyright infringement his former business enabled. Good times.

As previously reported, original founder Robertson was sued by EMI over his digital locker and music link sharing platform in 2007. He more or less won at first instance, but EMI prevailed on appeal; even though by that point neither EMI nor MP3tunes existed anymore, but the companies that acquired the litigation convinced the courts that Robertson should be held personally liable for his former company’s copyright shenanigans.

American copyright law usually offers juries a significant margin of variation when deciding what damages a copyright infringer should pay – from a very low figure to a very high figure. Damages are then theoretically paid ‘per infringement’, which is how you sometimes end up with phenomenal total figures owing. In these cases it’s for the juries to decide what should be paid, even though you sometimes sense even the judges overseeing the proceedings are a little flabbergasted at the final figures that can be proposed.

But Marty Bandier of Sony/ATV, which now controls the EMI music publishing business, thinks the jury got everything right in this latest edition of the EMI v MP3tunes legal battle. He told The Hollywood Reporter: “Sony/ATV Music Publishing commends the jury on their careful consideration of the facts and their decision in the case. The judicial process has worked in favour of the songwriter and demonstrated a respect for the copyrights laws. We will continue to vigorously pursue action against those who have disregarded the copyright laws of the works entrusted in our care”.

The complicated nature of this case and this week’s damages judgement means that it’s not 100% clear yet exactly what Robertson will have to pay, and it’s an EMI legal rep who gave Reuters the $41 million estimate. Either way, Robbo will almost certainly appeal.