Supreme Court Will Not Review Music Downloading Case
May 22, 2012

Supreme Court Will Not Review Music Downloading Case

The highest court in the United States has refused to review the case of a former Boston University student who was hit with a $675,000 penalty for illegally downloading music and sharing it on the Internet.

The petition was brought to the Supreme Court by Joel Tenenbaum, who in 2007 was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for copyright infringement for the illegal acquisition and distribution of 31 songs, including some by Aerosmith, Eminem, Green Day, Nirvana, and The Smashing Pumpkins, Fox News reported on Monday.

Tenenbaum's petition was denied without comment, they added.

In August 2009, a U.S. District Court jury in Boston found Tenenbaum guilty of infringing on the copyrights of four record labels, including Sony BMG and Warner Brothers.

He was ordered to pay $22,500 per violation for a total of $675,000. In July 2010, Judge Nancy Gertner reduced the penalty to just $67,500 (or $2,250 for each of 30 illegally downloaded songs), calling it "unconstitutionally excessive".

However, last year, the original penalty was reinstated by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who found that Judge Gertner "went too far when addressing the constitutionality of the Copyright Act´s damages provisions" and arguing that she "should have considered reducing the jury´s verdict under what is known as 'remittitur.' That is a little-used power beholden to judges, and they assert it without considering the constitutional basis of the original award," Wired's David Kravets explained.

"The district court should first have considered the non-constitutional issue of remittitur, which may have obviated any constitutional due process issue and attendant issues," the appeals court wrote in their decision, according to Kravets. "Had the court ordered remittitur of a particular amount, Sony would have then had a choice. It could have accepted the reduced award. Or, it could have rejected the remittitur, in which case a new trial would have ensued."

Tenenbaum, who reportedly graduated Sunday with a doctorate in statistical physics, had also been sued by the now defunct Arista Records, Atlantic Records, and Vivendi Universal Music Group, who accused him of making the songs available to millions of other people over file-sharing websites Napster, Morpheus, Kazaa and LimeWire, Bloomberg reporter Susan Decker said.

He continued even after receiving cease-and-desist letters from the companies and warnings from his own father about the possible legal repercussions, she also said.

During his trial, Tenenbaum admitted to downloading and sharing "hundreds of songs," AP Legal Affairs Writer Denise Lavoie reported on Monday, adding that his attorney argued that the damages "should be as little as 99 cents per song, about the same amount Tenenbaum would have to pay for a legal online song purchase."

"I can't believe the system would uphold a six-figure damages amount for downloading 30 songs on a file-sharing system that everybody used. I can't believe the court would uphold something that ludicrous," the 28-year-old Tenenbaum, who lives in Providence, Rhode Island, told Lavoie. "I've been working on a graduate student's stipend for six years now and I have no such money."