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Trials & Litigation

Tenenbaum Must Pay $675K, Jury Says, But Judge Will Consider Reduction

Posted Jul 31, 2009 7:20 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A graduate student in physics who illegally—and willfully—downloaded 30 songs on the Internet must pay $675,000 in damages, a federal jury in Boston decided today.

That amounts to $22,500 per song, notes Ars Technica. The maximum the jury could have awarded reportedly was $4.5 million.

Charles Nesson, a Harvard Law School professor who led the defense team, describes the verdict as a "bankrupting award" for his client, Joel Tenenbaum, the law blog reports, and lamented the fact that he was not permitted by the judge overseeing the case to present a fair-use defense.

However, there still may be some hope for the defense: Before the verdict was announced, U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner said she would hold a post-trial hearing to determine whether the amount of the damages violated constitutional guarantees of due process of law, Ars Technica reports.

"While no federal court has ever invalidated an award of copyright statutory damages as constitutionally excessive, the record labels’ litigation campaign has spurred arguments that the Supreme Court cases imposing limits on punitive damages should be extended to statutory damages, which may contain a punitive element," the article explains.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which spearheaded the case, said in a written statement that it is pleased with the verdict and indicated that Tenenbaum could have made the situation easier on himself by cooperating earlier. He was one of over 18,000 individuals who received RIAA letters demanding payment for illegal music downloading; most recipients reportedly have settled in the $3,500 to $5,000 range.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Directed Verdict Against Tenenbaum; Jury to Decide Music Download Damages"

Ars Technica: "Has the RIAA sued 18,000 people... or 35,000?"

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