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Court affirms $675,000 penalty in music-downloading case

Joel Tenenbaum, handed a $675,000 penalty for illegally downloading and distributing 31 songs, looks on as court upholds the size of the damages fee. The fee had been lowered once; then reinstated.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read

A federal court in Massachusetts today upheld a $675,000 damages award against Joel Tenenbaum, who was accused of illegally downloading 31 songs from a file-sharing Web site and distributing them and was sued by the main recording companies in the U.S.

U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel rejected Tenenbaum's request for a new jury trial, saying jurors had appropriately considered the evidence of Tenenbaum's actions -- downloading and distributing files for two years despite warnings -- and the harm to the plaintiffs. The penalty is at the low end of the range for willful infringement and below the limit for even nonwillful infringement, and thus was not excessive, the judge ruled.

"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," the judge wrote.

"We are pleased with the District Court's decision," was the comment from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which is the industry trade group.

Tenenbaum's lawyer, Harvard Law School Professor Charles Nesson, did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment this afternoon.

In 2007, the top record companies filed a copyright infringement suit against Tenenbaum, a Boston University student at the time. A jury found that Tenenbaum's infringement was willful and ordered him to pay $675,000 in damages. Tenenbaum argued that the jury award was unconstitutional and the federal judge who oversaw his trial agreed that the amount was "excessive."

When an appellate court agreed with the recording companies, Tenenbaum's attorney asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in. It declined.

The decision is here (PDF)

Update, August 24, 1:51 p.m. PT: Tenenbaum's attorney Charles Nesson said in an e-mail to CNET that he plans to appeal.

Update, 4:38 p.m. PT: Adds more background, details from the ruling.

Update, 7:55 p.m. PT: Clarifies that Tenenbaum distributed the songs, as well as downloading them.