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US court reinstates $675,000 damages for downloading songs

Illegal download of 30 songs sees 10-fold penalty increase
Tue Sep 20 2011, 11:51

A US APPEALS COURT has increased the damages from $67,500 to $675,000 in a case where a student illegally downloaded and shared 30 songs on the internet, reinstating the original verdict in what has become one of the biggest copyright infringement damage awards.

Physics student Joel Tenenbaum from Rhode Island was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on behalf of the top four record labels in 2009, resulting in damages of $22,500 per song, for a total of $675,000.

That ruling was later dismissed by US District Judge Nancy Gertner, who knocked a zero off the end because she found the damage award was "uncostitutionally excessive".

However, the music industry counter-appealed and successfully managed to add the zero back onto the already large damages number, primarily on the basis that Gertner had made the case a constitutional issue rather than a common law one, which would have more likely left her reduced penalty in place.

It seems the issue is a technicality of law and that the appeals court found that Gertner's approach was legally wrong more than that the lower damages amount should not be awarded. The court allowed for a further appeal by the defendant to get the amount lowered once more, providing the argument does not challenge the constitutionality of the award. This will likely see the zero drop again, almost making a mockery of the legal system.

The defendant said he was "dumstruck" and that "this is obviously more absurd than it was before," according to the Associated Press. He argues that the music industry has failed to prove it has been hurt by his actions and that the US Copyright Act is unconstitutional, but the appeals court does not agree with his assertions.

Regardless of the technicalities of law, it seems unlikely that Tenenbaum will have to pay the full amount in this case, particularly when the damages awarded in a previous case against a women who downloaded 24 songs were reduced from $1.5m to $54,000. µ


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