Tenenbaum damages slashed

By | Published on Monday 12 July 2010

Now a judge has reduced the damages due to the record industry from Joel Tenenbaum, too.

As previously reported, one of the most famous defendants of a Recording Industry Association Of America file-sharing lawsuit, Jammie Thomas, saw the damages she must pay the US record industry cut from a mind blogging $1.92 million to $54,000 at the start of the year. The RIAA has since offered to settle for less than half that, though Thomas is returning to court to push for an even lower damages figure.

Meanwhile, when Boston student Tenenbaum lost his RIAA litigation last year he was ordered to pay $675,000 in damages. As with Thomas, the figure was substantial because US copyright law allows juries to set damages in copyright cases of anywhere between $750 to $150,000 per infringement. Tenenbaum was specifically sued for infringing the copyrights in thirty songs by making them available via file-sharing networks.

But as with the Thomas case, the judge overseeing the Tenenbaum litigation ruled last week that six figure plus damages were inappropriate. In a 64 page ruling, Judge Nancy Gertner wrote: “[These damages are] far greater than necessary to serve the government’s legitimate interests in compensating copyright owners and deterring infringement. In fact, it bears no meaningful relationship to these objectives”.

She reduced Tenenbaum’s damages obligations to $67,500, or $2250 per infringement, but added that that figure was still substantial, and enough to deter others from illegally file-sharing. She continued: “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”.

The RIAA, however, did not concur. Despite initially offering a generous out of court settlement when Thomas’ damages were slashed, this time the trade body seems more willing to fight, vowing to appeal Gertner’s latest ruling. The body told reporters: “With this decision, the court has substituted its judgment for that of ten jurors as well as Congress. The judge appropriately recognised the egregious conduct of the defendant, including lying to the court about his behaviour, but then erroneously dismisses the profound economic and artistic harm caused when hundreds of songs are illegally distributed for free to millions of strangers on file-sharing networks”.

Speaking to the Boston Globe, Tenenbaum welcomed Gertner’s ruling, but said that, given he’s broke, paying a five figure settlement isn’t all that much more achievable than a six figure one. The student has previously said he would declare himself bankrupt if ordered to pay major damages to the record companies.