updated 05:19 pm EDT, Mon May 21, 2012
Previously lowered then reinstated damages award upheld
The Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal against a $675,000 damages award to the RIAA and Sony in a file-sharing trial, reports Wired. Attorneys for Joel Tenenbaum, formerly a Boston college student, argued the defendant should be protected against "unrestrained discretionary jury damage awards against individual citizens for copyright infringement," but was denied by the court without further comment.
The original trial by jury, one of only two file-sharing cases to have gone to trial, awarded $675,000 to the plaintiffs. Judge Nancy Gertner of Boston reduced the verdict to 10 percent, or $67,500, calling the award based on the Copyright Act's damages provisions "unconstitutionally excessive." After receiving a petition from the Obama administration, a federal appeals court found the reduction by Judge Gertner to be incorrect, arguing that a non-constitutional power of "remittitur" should have been employed, and thus reinstated the full award.
In the other file-sharing case, Jammie Thomas-Rasset of Minnesota had a $1.5 million award to the RIAA lowered to $54,000, with a comment from Judge Michael Davis against the reward size, claiming it to be "so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportionate to the offense and obviously unreasonable."
Harvard legal scholar Charles Nesson, representing Tenenbaum, urged the justices to look into the case. A judge's damage reduction by remittitur would have to be accepted by the plaintiff, which in cases such as these is unlikely to be accepted. The situation could therefore lead to repeated trials, dubbed by Nesson as an "endless litigation rathole."
The RIAA has since diverged from the tactic of suing individuals over file sharing, possibly due to modest out-of-court settlements being unprofitable, however the previous lawsuits are believed to have targeted thousands of peer-to-peer sharers.