August 26, 2012

Federal Judge Upholds $675,000 Fine In Illegal File-Sharing Case

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A Massachusetts federal court upheld a $675,000 fine against Joel Tenenbaum, who was charged in 2007 for illegally downloading and distributing 31 songs. The fine, which was assessed by a jury in 2009, was appealed by Tenenbaum, who asked for a retrial shortly afterward. The federal judge turned down that appeal, stating the damages set by the 2009 jury were fair.

U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel said the jurors had appropriately considered the evidence of Tenenbaum´s actions -- downloading and distributing files for two years despite warnings and an initial charge of $5,250.

Tenenbaum was asked to pay $5,250 in 2003 when he was sixteen for illegally downloading 7 songs. The letter was addressed to his parents, accusing him of illegal file-sharing. According to reports, Tenenbaum offered $500 (all he had at the time), but the music labels involved declined that offer.

The new penalty, despite being immensely heftier than the 2003 charge, is at the low end of the range for willful infringement (in the US a jury can set a fine of up to $150,000 for every occasion of willful infringement) and is much below the limit for even non-willful infringement, said the judge, adding that it was not excessive, as the defense claimed.

“In light of these factors, a rational appraisal of the evidence before the jury, viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, supports the damages award,” wrote the judge.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) applauded Judge Zobel´s ruling. “We are pleased with the District Court's decision,” it said in a statement, reports CNET.

Tenenbaum argued after the 2009 verdict that the jury award was unconstitutional and the federal judge who oversaw the trial agreed that the fine was “excessive.” However, Judge Zobel sided with the initial ruling, upholding the $675,000 fine.

Tenenbaum admitted in court that he had distributed some 800 songs. “I used the computer. I uploaded, I downloaded music.” He also said he had refused donations from supporters of his case. “This lawsuit was against me. This is my verdict,” he wrote in a blog.