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Judge says $675,000 verdict for RIAA is unconstitutional

updated 06:15 pm EDT, Fri July 9, 2010

Judge in Tenenbaum case reduces damages by 10x

Boston Judge Nancy Gertner today ruled that the $675,000 in damages levied in the Joel Tenenbaum piracy case was illegal. An order from the legislator called the penalty "unconstitutionally excessive" and cut the penalty to $67,500. It violated the 14th Amendment's rule against depriving anyone of property without due process of law, according to the decision.

In the ruling, Judge Gertner went so far as to assert that she would have fined Tenenbaum less for copyright violation in her "independent judgment" even given the defendant's admission, but couldn't as the penalty was dictated by the jury. The $67,500 was the most she could allow in constitutional terms.

The RIAA has already contested the reduction and claimed that lowering the penalty not only overrode the jury's verdict but neglected the "profound economic and artistic harm" allegedly caused by one user sharing hundreds of songs. As in the past, it hasn't demonstrated the calculations it used to justify the cost. Judge Gertner has already defended her verdict by making it clear the music labels were simply "going for broke" in the damages and hadn't directly presented the money lost.

Tenenbaum has said he still doesn't believe he can afford to pay the reduced penalty but hasn't said if he will oppose the remaining amount.

The verdict reinforces the earlier precedent in the long-running Jammie Thomas-Rasset case, where the judge lowered the penalty by 35 times on similar grounds of excess. RIAA lawyers have lately turned away from suing customers but have been repeatedly accused by challengers of using the suits as a substitute business model in the face of dropping CD sales. Targets have said the process is unfair to the accused as it pressures them into settling even if they are innocent or have a viable defense, as often the cost of challenging a dedicated music studio legal team is too high for most of those affected.

By Electronista Staff
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