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Music The Courts

RIAA's Tenenbaum Verdict Cut From $675k To $67.5k 253

Posted by Soulskill
from the one-order-of-magnitude-closer-to-sanity dept.
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes "In SONY BMG Music Entertainment v. Tenenbaum, the Court has reduced the jury's award from $675,000, or $22,500 per infringed work, to $67,500, or $2,250 per infringed work, on due process grounds, holding that the jury's award was unconstitutionally excessive. In a 64-page decision (PDF), District Judge Nancy Gertner ruled that the Gore, Campbell, and Williams line of cases was applicable to determining the constitutionality of statutory damages awards, that statutory damages must bear a reasonable relationship to the actual damages, and that the usual statutory damages award in even more egregious commercial cases is from 2 to 6 times the actual damages. However, after concluding that the actual damages in this case were ~ $1 per infringed work, she entered a judgment for 2,250 times that amount. Go figure." That $2,250 per infringed work figure should look familiar from Jammie Thomas-Rassett's reduced damages judgment — $54,000 for 24 songs.
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RIAA's Tenenbaum Verdict Cut From $675k To $67.5k

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  • by Zironic (1112127) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:06PM (#32855214)

    Isn't that still way more then most people can reasonably pay and completely disproportionate to the actual damages caused? He'll probably still have to declare bankruptcy.

  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:10PM (#32855262)

    It's more than most people have liquid but it's certainly not more than most people can reasonably pay. After all, most adults have a house, a car, and if necissary wages for the next 10 years. It's not like they expect you to write out a check the day after the trial is over. Yes, it's still wildly disproportionate, but at least it I am mentally capable of imagining it is an amount the people who wrote the law might have expected; something that I can't say about the original award.

  • So (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afidel (530433) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:12PM (#32855284)
    We have tort reform which limits doctors liability when they screw up someones life, we have oil company liability limited to $75M, but if you trade some bits you are responsible for a months takehome pay for an average US family, sounds about right.
  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:12PM (#32855288) Journal

    Isn't that still way more then most people can reasonably pay and completely disproportionate to the actual damages caused? He'll probably still have to declare bankruptcy.

    While completely disproportionate to actual damages, that is easily within a payable range (though not all at once).

    It's less than a house, and there are people who can afford two of those. If they make him do monthly installments over 6 years he should be able to pull it off.

  • Mods - WTH (Score:1, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:27PM (#32855438)

    Come on mods, there is absolutely nothing trollish about what he said here. It arguably states the facts of the situation better than the OP's comment which is currently at +5.

    '-1 Troll' != 'I Disagree'

  • Infinite Resources (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DIplomatic (1759914) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:33PM (#32855504) Journal
    The real problem here is that computer data (here referring to song files) is the only truly infinite resource that has ever existed on the planet. A digital copy of a CD could be copied an infinite number of times without any loss of quality. How do you regulate that? It would be like if you had a device that cloned Ferraris and with the push of a button you created a dozen perfect Ferraris out of thin air for you and all of your friends. The guy who owns a Ferrari dealership is going to be pissed, but you didn't do anything to him. You didn't take anything from him. You can't erase file-sharing from the planet. The technology exists, so there must now be a new model of business and new rules by which to regulate it.
  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:37PM (#32855552)

    No, the lawmakers established a range of $350 - $250,000 per song, depending on the circumstances of the infringement. I refuse to believe that they intended for the top end of that spectrum to be applied to situations such as these. While this was clearly not the most innocent type of infringement (something like burning a mix CD would qualify in my mind (not that I agree that it should be against the law, only that according to the law that is infringement and if it must be punished should be punished with the smallest award legally applicable)). At the same time it is far from the most heinous infringement (something like a major bootlegging operation selling thousands of copies at a profit).

  • by Lloyd_Bryant (73136) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:41PM (#32855588)

    ... an amount the people who wrote the law might have expected

    Not really. The lawmakers established a fine of $250,000 per song. They'd probably be disappointed to see it reduced to just over $2000

    I doubt it. When the law was written, it was written to cover commercial infringement, as at that time there was no technology that would have allowed for the wide-spread non-commercial infringement that is commonplace today.

    The law really needs to be rewritten to differentiate between the two, with reasonable (if any) penalties for P2P type infringement. However, given the current influence of the media corporations with government, maybe we should leave well enough alone...

  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:43PM (#32855616) Journal

    Assuming he can find a job:

    "Hello. I'm a lawyer, studied for 6 years inc ollege plus law school, and oh yeah I have a court record that forces me to pay $70,000."

    "Ummmm.... that's... interesting. Well we'll go through the rest of this daylong interview since you're here, but to be honest I've already wrote Reject on your resume."

  • When UMG was sued for copyright infringement, the punitive damages were reduced from 10x actual damages to 2x actual damages.

    But when it is suing some kid for copyright infringement, it's allowed to collect 2250x actual damages.*

    Doesn't sound like equal justice to me.

    * Even Judge Gertner's $1 actual damages figure is wildly overstated. 70 cents lost revenue minus 35 cents saved expenses = lost profit of 35 cents, IF you wanted to assume that every unuathorized download represents a lost sale, which it certainly does not. Most likely the real actual damages is 5 or 10 cents on an mp3 download.
  • by NecroPuppy (222648) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:47PM (#32855656) Homepage

    It's a 750 dollar minimum with, as I recall, a few criteria that can allow for triple damages, such as willfull infringement.

    So really, that is, by law, the miminum he could have been hit for.

    Ultimately, if the RIAA decides to go back on the "sue-em-all" bandwagon, they'll just start raising the number of songs. Instead of going after someone for 24 songs, they'll instead go after them for 100 songs.

  • by 0123456 (636235) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:49PM (#32855678)

    Why is everyone bitching that the guy got in trouble for downloading free music. I was taught "don't do the crime if you cant do the time." These guys broke the law and committed a felony. They are lucky they are not going to prison. I would gladly pay $60k and keep my ass out of the prison shower room.

    I think the complaint is the disproportionate punishment for the crime. He apparently downloaded 30 songs, which is about 3 CDs worth... if he'd walked into a CD store and stolen three CDs with no previous criminal record, do you really think he'd be fined $67,000 or sent to jail?

  • Re:go figure? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:59PM (#32855768) Journal

    Or read the opinion, which will obviate the need for figuring. She explains her justification for the damages figure (3 times the statutory minimum) quite thoroughly

    When statutory damages are 750 times actual damages, the statutory damages are clearly unconstitutional. There's no explaining that.

    If the defendant provably lied under oath, prosecute them for perjury. Tacking damages onto another judgment is wrong.

  • by RobertM1968 (951074) on Friday July 09, 2010 @05:59PM (#32855788) Homepage Journal

    It's more than most people have liquid but it's certainly not more than most people can reasonably pay. After all, most adults have a house, a car, and if necissary wages for the next 10 years.

    So, you are saying that because someone is capable of selling their house and car to pay $67,000 for sharing 24 songs, that it is a reasonable expectation?

    It's not like they expect you to write out a check the day after the trial is over.

    Are you sure about that? Most companies I have ever seen (ones far less evil than the RIAA) expect, on determination of a judgment amount, that you will do exactly that or they take other measures to collect said judgment - all while adding exorbitant interest and fees (legal, collection and otherwise) to the amount. As a matter of fact, such practices were part of the reason for the Homestead law in Florida (and similar ones elsewhere) because such "collection" activities often included going after such personal property as one's house and car.

    Yes, it's still wildly disproportionate, but at least it I am mentally capable of imagining it is an amount the people who wrote the law might have expected; something that I can't say about the original award.

    Well, I am sure that the people who lobbied for and/or sponsored those penalties as defined in the law (the RIAA and MPAA and their members) definitely imagined and hoped for such amounts - and obviously more (based on the original judgment amount) when they pushed for this. I suspect that those who wrote the law went in to it fully expecting such amounts as well, fully knowing what the **AA's expectations were on the matter. That has nothing to do with whether either judgment fits the "crime" though. So... I guess I concede that point to you. ;-)

  • by flaming error (1041742) on Friday July 09, 2010 @06:03PM (#32855818) Journal

    > it's certainly not more than most people can reasonably pay
    Perhaps most people in your social circle could pay that, but not most people in America.

    Median income is around $50K/year.

    The average amount of "disposable income" that is saved lately varies between -2% and +2%.

    Paying off $7K/year would require 14% of the median income. I suppose one can survive on that, if one cuts back on luxuries like clothes, meat, and gasoline. And pirates their music.

  • When statutory damages are 750 times actual damages, the statutory damages are clearly unconstitutional. There's no explaining that.

    No there is no explaining it. The decision never makes a rational transition to its conclusion.

    1.Law: statutory damages should be 2 to 6 times actual damage
    2.Actual damage found to be $1
    3. ??????????
    4. $2,250 profits for RIAA.

    I for one welcome the administration of justice by our corporatist overlords.

  • Re:Amateur Lawyers (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 09, 2010 @06:22PM (#32855990)

    You quoted from the summary. The summary was written by NewYorkCountryLawyer, who is (if I remember correctly) an actual lawyer.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Friday July 09, 2010 @06:28PM (#32856056)

    I doubt it. When the law was written, it was written to cover commercial infringement,

    Yes, that's a very important point to remember. The laws were written to discourage commercial pirates. If they made and sold 10,000 illegal copies of a CD, they made 10,000x as much money as if they only sold one. The more copies they could sell, the more they would benefit. So a fine like $250,000 per song made sense to discourage them.

    But on the same token, it makes absolutely no sense to apply that fine to personal copyright infringement. By definition, the personal infringer is only interested in one copy. S/he cannot benefit from making nor providing more than one copy (indeed, as many filesharing networks have found out, the incentive to leave the network as soon as they've gotten their one copy gives rise to "leechers"). So just fining them for the one illegal copy is disincentive enough. Figure $25 for a CD, treble damages for willful infringement, and a little extra for the copyright holder's and government's time and effort, and you're in the $100-$200 range per CD.

    This gets into another aspect of this whole thing which is just wrong. The *AA are essentially double-dipping. When they bring a file-sharer to trial, they bemoan how the lone person made the song available to thousands of other people, and so the fine should reflect all those copies. But if that's their reasoning, then the moment they get a judgment for $54,000 against one person, that should indemnify all the people who got files from her from further prosecution. After all, by the *AA's own argument, the fine she's paying is for all those copies, not just hers. So the defendant(s) has been punished and fined, and the *AA recompensed for those thousands of copies and made whole. But no, they go right on filing lawsuits against all those other people.

    Either haul one person to court and make them pay these huge fines, and indemnify the rest of the people from prosecution for that infringement. Or try each person in court for their single infringement. You cannot have it both ways and fine every single person for his/her infringement plus the infringement of every other filesharer, and do the same for every other filesharer. Much like if you file suit against a commercial pirate, the people who bought CDs from that pirate are not liable for infringement.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Friday July 09, 2010 @06:53PM (#32856262)

    A mix CD is *NOT* infringement. That's an obvious case of Fair Use.

    Copyright law disagrees with you. "Fair use" would be a CD on which you record your own one hour blog about the evolution of rock music from 1960 to 2010 and add a few ten second samples to clarify the points that you are making. A mix CD containing _complete_ songs or large parts of songs is definitely not "Fair use".

  • I don't get it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 09, 2010 @07:15PM (#32856462)

    So the discussion is about how difficult it is to pay, when you are caught, for something that you stole. I do not support $20 for a CD but when I don't have an extra twenty, I don't FUCKING buy a CD. Why is it difficult to understand that as ridiculous and seemingly unfair the punishment could be, it is what it is. Did he know it? Yes. Did he take a chance? Yes. Time to wake up buddy. No one is to blame. Ugh.

  • by flosofl (626809) on Friday July 09, 2010 @10:46PM (#32857606) Homepage
    I think what you're describing (the charging for distribution) is called criminal copyright infringement. It has much steeper fines and could involve jail time.

    Making a mix tape (or CD) and giving it to a friend gratis, is still copyright infringement, but I believe it's only a civil matter at that point. Tanenbaum was sued in civil court, (the RIAA's mentions 10 jurors in their response to the ruling). It's only when you start charging money when it becomes criminal (and the federal government attacks your ass).

    I could be wrong, but I'm fairly sure that's how it currently works (or rather doesn't work IMHO).
  • by Securityemo (1407943) on Friday July 09, 2010 @11:35PM (#32857776) Journal
    I don't care about what the law says - putting someone into financial ruin for such a petty crime is clearly horrendously evil. Nitpicking only serves to obfuscate the basic injustice of it. The law (your law, I don't live in the US) is corrupt.
  • by shaitand (626655) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @12:54AM (#32858042) Journal

    I could literally walk in a store and steal a $24 item in front of a cop and get no jail time and walk away with a $100 fine.

  • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Saturday July 10, 2010 @05:30AM (#32858926) Journal

    My first house was $65,000, 3 bedrooms, 1,200 square feet, nicely finished.

    My current house was $55,000, 5 bedrooms, 2,200 square feet, not quite done yet.

    Perhaps you live somewhere that housing expenses (and median income) is greater, but I would not have been able to pay either of them off in six years.

  • Re:So (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday July 10, 2010 @08:35AM (#32859502) Homepage Journal

    Should the company survive it's just more proof that the Libertarian model of letting everyone run wild and the market decide things is fundamentally flawed.

    Under the anarchic model (let's face it, that's what libertarians really want; a system of anarchy where they can create their own feudal societies) someone or some group would take up the task of assassinating BP executives, destroying their equipment, et cetera. But under THIS model such a thing is illegal and will get you in a whole lot of trouble. Of course, it wouldn't really solve anything. Instead of civil war there would be corporate war. But libertarians never seem to realize that they are anarchists. Then again, we're just sitting here bagging on libertarians when none of them have even cropped up to say anything ignorant.

  • by WillDraven (760005) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @06:00PM (#32862310) Homepage

    The new corporatism is much, much more dangerous to our society than terrorism.

    Not only that, but one could make the argument that it breeds actual terrorism. As we have learned in the middle east, if you ruin enough peoples lives eventually some of them will decide to come and TAKE yours.

The F-15 Eagle: If it's up, we'll shoot it down. If it's down, we'll blow it up. -- A McDonnel-Douglas ad from a few years ago

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