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Tenenbaum’s six figure file-sharing damages bill upheld

By | Published on Wednesday 26 June 2013

Joel Tennenbaum

In a legal battle that has been rumbling on for so long now that the file-sharing on Kazaa that initiated it all seems charmingly quaint somehow, an appeals court has upheld a previous ruling that the file-sharer in question should pay $675,000 in damages to the American record industry, represented by the Recording Industry Association Of America.

As much previously reported, Joel Tenenbaum was one of the few people targeted during the RIAA’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 those damages were way too high given Tenenbaum’s actions, and tried to cut them down on constitutional grounds. But then an appeals court, criticising said judge’s interference, reinstated the jury set damages, leaving Tenenbaum with the $675,000 bill.

Although the US Supreme Court refused to consider the case, Tenenbaum’s legal team have continued to appeal through lower courts. But this week the First Circuit Court Of Appeals also backed the original damages sum, rejecting the argument that being ordered to pay $22,500 in damages for each of the 31 songs Tenenbaum was specifically accused of illegally sharing was excessive.

In its ruling the appeal court noted that the specific songs listed in the RIAA’s lawsuit were actually just part of the defendant’s file-sharing activities, that he had ignored warnings before being sued, and that the jury in the original case actually set damages at the lower end of the bracket allowed under law.

It also rejected Tenenbaum’s argument that the damage actually felt by the record industry was not more than the retail value of the albums he illegally downloaded, while adding that – anyway – there was a deterrent element to the statutory damages allowed under the US copyright system.

Says the court: “Tenenbaum carried on his activities for years in spite of numerous warnings, he made thousands of songs available illegally, and he denied responsibility during discovery. Much of this behaviour was exactly what Congress was trying to deter when it amended the Copyright Act”.

On the Tenenbaum team’s arguments that the record labels’ real loss was no more than $450, the court added: “This argument asks us to disregard the deterrent effect of statutory damages, the inherent difficulty in proving damages in a copyright suit, and Sony’s evidence of the harm that it suffered from conduct such as Tenenbaum’s”.

Concluding, the court ruling read: “Therefore, we do not hesitate to conclude that an award of $22,500 per song, an amount representing 15% of the maximum award for wilful violations and less than the maximum award for non-wilful violations, comports with due process”.

It’s not clear what Tenenbaum’s next move may be. He’s previously said there’s no way he could afford to pay $675,000 in damages anyway.