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Court Reinstates $675k File Sharing Verdict 388

Posted by Soulskill
from the wronging-what-once-went-right dept.
FunPika writes with this excerpt from Wired: "A federal appeals court on Friday reinstated a whopping $675,000 file sharing verdict that a jury levied against a Boston college student for making 30 tracks of music available on a peer-to-peer network. The decision by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a federal judge who slashed the award as 'unconstitutionally excessive.' U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner of Boston reduced the verdict to $67,500, or $2,250 for each of the 30 tracks defendant Joel Tenenbaum unlawfully downloaded and shared on Kazaa, a popular file sharing peer-to-peer service. The Recording Industry Association of America and Tenenbaum both appealed in what has been the nation's second RIAA file sharing case to ever reach a jury. The Obama administration argued in support of the original award, and said the judge went too far when addressing the constitutionality of the Copyright Act's damages provisions. The act allows damages of up to $150,000 a track." Update: 09/17 21:32 GMT by S : As it turns out, the article's explanation of the decision is a bit lacking; read on for NewYorkCountryLawyer's more accurate explanation.
NYCL writes, "The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to reach the Due Process issue in SONY BMG Music Entertainment v. Tenenbaum. In a 65-page decision (PDF), which rejected all of Tenebaum's counsel's other arguments, and which otherwise praised Judge Gertner's handling of the trial, the First Circuit felt that under the doctrines of judicial restraint and constitutional avoidance, it was premature to decide the constitutional issue without first disposing of the defendant's motion on common law, remittitur grounds. The Court gave several examples of scenarios which might have occurred, had the lower court decided the remittitur question, which would have avoided embarking down the constitutional path."
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Court Reinstates $675k File Sharing Verdict

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  • by Haedrian (1676506) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @08:38AM (#37428384)

    What goes into these people's heads.

    "Hmm yeah he put some songs up for download, that's 22,500 dollars each."

    Maybe he hit a pair of extra zeros when he was typing out the verdict.

    Surely he didn't prevent 22,500 people from paying a dollar for the song.

    • Surely he didn't prevent 22,500 people from paying a dollar for the song.

      No, that is the producer's job!
      (considering the quality of music that has been coming out of the RIAA the past decade)

    • Surely he didn't prevent 22,500 people from paying a dollar for the song.

      I don't know. Is that figure so hard to believe? How many people use file sharing networks .... millions? It wouldn't have to be a very popular song to quickly rack up 22,500 downloads from people who might otherwise have just used iTunes.

      It's always hard to hear about huge fines levied against individuals who have no way to pay but what does the guy expect? He knew what he was doing was illegal. If there's no punishment at all you mi

      • by Haedrian (1676506)

        Right and all of them were going to buy the song if they couldn't get it online of course. And all of them are going to download it from this gentleman.

        Also they seem to still be doing well for themselves, even with all this 'rampant piracy', I don't see them dying of hunger anywhere. Buskers and volunteers right.

      • by Shadow99_1 (86250)

        I would. And I've made books and music, both on that list.

      • Is that figure so hard to believe?

        It's hard for me to believe it if they don't have any evidence. Not only that, but I don't think they should be punishing one guy because other people downloaded the file (even if he helped them do it). And it's only a potential loss of potential profit.

        He knew what he was doing was illegal.

        Right. I'm sure that argument will be so convincing to people who think that this punishment is cruel and unusual.

      • by Rockoon (1252108) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @11:43AM (#37429408)

        I don't know. Is that figure so hard to believe?

        Yes.

        Suppose I offer a copyrighted recording for download and people in fact do download it. The way this file sharing software works, the people that download it by default are then also offering for download.

        Unless you are claiming that nobody else can also be held accountable for illegally distributing the same songs in question, then you must conclude that if the key number in question is valid then at least 22,500 other people can also be held responsible for the very same songs distribution on file sharing networks by the very same courts.

        Under this scenario where 22,500 people can all be held accountable, each for 22,500 downloads.. we are now talking about 506 million downloads being claimed..

        Are you suggesting that 506 million downloads isn't hard to believe?

        It is obvious that either the 22,500 figure is bullshit, or the system is set up to punish one individual for the crimes of up to 22,500 other people....

    • by westlake (615356)

      "Hmm yeah he put some songs up for download, that's 22,500 dollars each."

      It is an unlicensed, unlimited, wholesale redistribution. That is why statutory damages come into play.

      If it had been possible to watermark his uploads and trace every download this geek would not have fared any better. There is a very good chance he would have been hit even harder, and I think everyone here knows that.

      Kazaa made it very easy and very tempting for the uploader to boast about being the ultimate - the reliable - source for a particular product. You could browse the shared files folders of

  • Would I be on the hook for $168 million?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by erroneus (253617)

      Let's not forget a jury of US citizens actually somehow thought this was appropriate.

      We have a serious stupidity problem in the US that is bringing the nation to its knees... right at hip level to huge money interests... leaving the US begging for a huge money shot.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Shadow99_1 (86250)

        The problem is no one smart would be allowed to stay on the Jury... a hint of intelligence disqualifies you these days...

        • by LordKronos (470910) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @10:25AM (#37428942) Homepage

          Bullshit. I used to believe that crap, then a few years ago I got an opportunity to serve on a jury for the first time. I'd say 2/3 of the jury were pretty smart in one way or another.

          When picking a jury, you can't just disqualify as many people as you want. Each side has only a limited number of jurors they can dismiss without reason. They can dismiss an unlimited number of jurors for good reason, if the judge agree's it's a good reason, but I don't think "because he's too smart" is going to be a good reason to do so in the judges eyes. So sure, they could use their limited number of no-reason dismissals to try and get rid of smart people, but the problem is, you quickly run out those, and then you are stuck with whatever jurors get called as a replacement.

          Furthermore, it's fairly difficult to figure out who's smart just based on the questions that get asked. The judge just asks for simple stuff like your occupation and a few questions to try to determine any bias...whether you know anyone involved with the case, whether someone you know or are related to has been involved in a similar case, whether you or someone you know has been a victim of the sort of crime about to be tried, etc.

          • by matria (157464)
            My husband got disqualified "for reason" because we belonged to a rather strict Christian sect, and the defendant was divorced, so it was presumed that my husband would be prejudiced against the defendant.
            • Sounds reasonable to me.
            • by Fjandr (66656)

              If I were an attorney during voire dire, I'd more than likely move for a dismissal of your husband for cause too. The presumption of prejudice is eminently reasonable when a religious fundamentalist is involved. There is all of human history to lend credence to a lack of ability to compromise when a fundamentalist's beliefs may come into play.

          • by Shadow99_1 (86250)

            Oh they never say "I don't want you because your to smart". That said... I've been drawn to court only to be turned down twice. They also asked us far more than 'Did you know anyone involved?' or 'What is your occupation?'. I was asked all sorts of things by both lawyers that they thought was vaguely relevant to the case at hand and the judge didn't seem to much care what they asked.

            The people who go on always seem to be the stupidest, most ignorant of anything except their own petty lives people I've ever

            • by Rockoon (1252108)
              Indeed. I was asked "If the defendant was accused of kidnapping the victim with a firearm, would you need to see evidence that the defendant had possessed a firearm?"

              My response was "If no firearm is entered into evidence, it would be much harder to convince me that the defendant had the means to commit the crime that he is accused of"

              I was dismissed.
              • by MikeUW (999162)

                Maybe your response was interpreted as an indication that you have a bias towards hard CSI-style evidence as a requirement for a guilty verdict.

                My answer to that would be more along the lines of "Not if all other evidence presented is sufficient to eliminate reasonable doubt.", since reasonable doubt is threshold that has to be passed for conviction in US courts (or am I mistaken?).

        • if, during the pre-test phase, you show knowledge of jury nullification, you are automatically disqualified.

          they ask a few times if you will follow the letter of the law or the judges 'instructions'; and if you say you will follow your heart (in any similar words) you are thrown out of the pool.

          they don't want people judging the law; they want to withold that so that those who can directly monkey with the system can do so unfettered by your and my 'moral views' toward bought-and-paid-for laws.

          and if you kno

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MarkvW (1037596)

        The majority of the population don't care about people who are violating other people's copyright. That's just the way it is.

        Things may very well change in twenty years, when the kids who file shared have grown up and compose a majority of the electorate, but I doubt it.

        Crimes get defined by the majority. Deal with it.

      • by Dan541 (1032000)

        A jury of people who had no good reason to get out of jury duty. Unemployed, etc.

    • by Haedrian (1676506)

      Well lets see.

      You have to pay for the sports car (of course)
      You also have to pay for the potential fuel that the driver was going to use - because you destroyed the sports car, the petrol companies lost 'potential income' which the driver would have used according to their calculations based on a random number generator with a bias towards greed.

      I'm applying the same logic as this case has. Seems to work.

    • by tompaulco (629533)
      No, you would probably be on the hook for $75k plus some jail time, but if you stole it, made a bunch of exact copies and gave it to people for free, then you might be on the hook for $168 million.
      A brief web search turns up that Ferrari is extremely vigilant about defending their work and sues practically everybody. I even found an article about Rolls Royce suing a golf cart manufacturer for making fake Rolls Royce front ends for their golf carts.
      Seems like everybody is trying to defend their work, not j
      • by morari (1080535)

        [quote]I even found an article about Rolls Royce suing a golf cart manufacturer for making fake Rolls Royce front ends for their golf carts.[/quote]

        LMAO!

        I have a set of fiberglass fenders, hood, and deck lid for my VW Beetle to make it look like an old Rolls Royce. I always thought it was kind of an ugly kit, but now I'm tempted to put it on just to piss off Rolls Royce. :P

  • So you take a merely onerous award that the defendant might possibly pay off and raise it back up to something that there's no way in heck he'll ever pay. What's the point, again?

    • by morari (1080535) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @10:08AM (#37428850) Journal

      To ensure that he is a slave and that his children will be slaves. That's what debt is all about, whether it's brought on by that flashy new car, your overpriced suburban house, that prestigious college diploma, a few medical bills, or some asinine court costs. You can't be a proper citizen until you're at the financial mercy of the system. How else are corporations going to legally keep slaves nowadays?

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @08:59AM (#37428490)
    What happened to him? Long time no submissions or other news with him mentioned. This is his field.
  • Sorry... (Score:2, Informative)

    by PortHaven (242123)

    But Obama is a f***kwad....

    All you bleeding heart liberals are too stupid to realize there is nothing to differentiate this man from George W. Bush. And as for copyrights & patents....he is showing himself to be a pimp for corporation.

    Against the people at every turn. We're not talking about legality. We're talking about the Constitution that says a fine cannot outweigh the crime. Right now, in our courts. Copyright violation is a greater crime than rape. Think about that before you reply...

    • by tgd (2822)

      But Obama is a f***kwad....

      All you bleeding heart liberals are too stupid to realize there is nothing to differentiate this man from George W. Bush. And as for copyrights & patents....he is showing himself to be a pimp for corporation.

      Against the people at every turn. We're not talking about legality. We're talking about the Constitution that says a fine cannot outweigh the crime. Right now, in our courts. Copyright violation is a greater crime than rape. Think about that before you reply...

      Clearly thinking is a stretch for you, but consider this:

      You don't pay a fine for rape, you go to jail.
      Obama is not a lawyer working for the executive branch.

      You, however, are a moron, if the difference between what you posted, and the reality of the two points above, aren't understood by you.

      • Re:Sorry... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @11:27AM (#37429288)
        Though I can't say that the poster you are responding to is a reasonable, and rational human being, I can say that you are a fucking moron if you think that a 675,000 dollar fine is better than 5 years in prison. Thats more than most people make in 14 years, and it will ruin this kids life over something that isn't even a big deal.
      • Re:Sorry... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Shihar (153932) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @12:55PM (#37429782)

        Personally, I would eat a couple of years in jail at a low security prison than a $600,000+ fine. Low security prison, frankly, isn't that bad. You piss away a couple of a years reading books, and then you are done. Whenever you go into a job interview, when you get to the point where you need to disclose a prison record, you just explain that you were in because you shared 30 music files on your computer. As an employer, I wouldn't balk for a second. If anything, I would be more inclined to hire in a tie as a small attempt to outweigh a brutal injustice. Being two years behind in your job growth/promotion path is annoying, but trivial.

        A $600,000 fine is brutal. It means that you will never be able to save enough to retire. You will absolutely end up becoming a dependent on the state and have to rely entirely on social security when you retire. You are have been fucked for the rest of your life. You will never have enough money to do anything more than scrape by. You will never be able to take out a loan for basically anything. Unlike being stuck with a mortgage of that amount, you can never declare bankruptcy. You are in financial servitude to the state for the rest of your entire life.

        Better for the State to outright steal a few years of your life than to be enslaved for the next 60+ years that this poor kid is going to be alive for.

  • by Dunbal (464142) * on Saturday September 17, 2011 @09:20AM (#37428622)

    The Obama administration argued in support of the original award,

    The executive branch, which receives funds from corporations in the form of campaign contributions, should keep its nose out of the judicial branch, which is tasked with enforcing the letter of the law without the influence of corporations (or any other third party).

    • by shmlco (594907)

      In all likelihood it was just a lawyer from the Justice department. But it's cooler to say, "Obama administration", as if he personally stood there arguing the case.

  • Music is BAD hm'kay (Score:5, Interesting)

    by linebackn (131821) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @09:21AM (#37428626)

    So children, what has this taught us today? That's right, music is DANGEROUS.

    What was once part of the human condition, bringing people together, binding their society, and begging at an instinctual level to be shared for the propagation of all human kind, is now owned by a few companies who will sue you to an early grave.

    Destroy all of your radios, CD, and MP3 players. This stuff is more dangerous than radioactive waste.

    • by stinerman (812158)

      That's actually not too far from the truth. Copyright infringement is a strict liability crime. That means even if you didn't realize you were infringing and/or took reasonable steps to ensure you weren't infringing, you are still on the hook if you end up doing it anyway. In that case, the minimum penalties are lowered to $200 per work infringed.

      There's an idea, send someone a trojan that shares their music folder. I've got about 5,000 songs, give or take. That'd be about $1,000,000 -- minimum. There

  • Well if he was the only one to post the tracks online then that is actually not a unreasonable figure for the losses the company might suffer.
    Of course he would not be, basically all music is available online from a variety of sources, but it seems less unreasonable if you take the stance "he is being punished for all lost revenue from the pirating of those tracks", because he is the only one caught.
    But then I am sure nothing is stopping them from suing person after person for the same songs.

  • if you violate copyright law you have to declare bankruptcy and forever be unable to get a loan, meaning you can never own a house, a car, etc.
    In some ways it is better to be a murderer, a sex offender, or any plethora of other "lesser" crimes.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @09:47AM (#37428750)
    Copyright law allows up to $150,000 per violation to discourage commercial copyright infringement. That's when someone makes a bootleg CD and sells a tens of thousands of copies for few bucks each. What happens in this case is that the bootlegger is liable for (say) 15 tracks x $150,000 each. But in the process, this indemnifies all his customers. The CDs they bought aren't real, they're contraband. But because the ringleader behind the whole thing was caught and punished, and restitution made to the IP owners, they get to keep their CDs and are not liable to be sued for owning contraband.

    What happens in filesharing is quite different. Say you share a song with 10,000 people. For a judgement approaching the $150,000 per song max to make sense, punishing you with that fine has to indemnify all those people you shared with. Otherwise you can fine Tenenbaum $22,500 for making 10,000 copies of a song, but you can also fine each of the 10,000 people he shared with $22,500 each for making the same song available to each other. Thus netting the record company a potential $225 million for 10,000 copies whereas in the bootleg CD case they could only net $150,000 for the 10,000 copies.

    This country really needs to pass a copyright law which distinguishes between these two cases. The current copyright statutes make sense for commercial copyright infringement when there's a single perpetrator behind it all. A new copyright statute needs to be made to cover cases of peer-to-peer filesharing, which recognizes that 10,000 people sharing a sing with each other means each person on average only made 1 copy. Punishment needs to reflect that average, meaning something on the order of $100 should be adequate. Either that or limit copyright holders to suing one and only one filesharer per song, ever. Right now, we're allowing record companies to sue 10,000 people on the basis of making 100 million copies, even though only 10,000 copies were ever made.
  • For example, right now on my computer I have absolutely no media, but can listen to anything I want on Spotify or YouTube. What I find interesting is that the recording industry is allowing Spotify's business model after over a decade of shunning online delivery of content. Perhaps this is the beginning of ad driven, affordable, and legal/legitimate access to media. Thoughts?
  • Unless this dude's family is composed of millionaires, this is pretty much game over. At this point you may as well spend your time trying to assign blame so you can exact some form of revenge, what are they going to do to you, pay for your room, board, food, and medical care forever?

  • by satuon (1822492) on Saturday September 17, 2011 @11:03AM (#37429148)
    The music industry needs to make people afraid to download songs, and afraid to NOT SETTLE when they send them nastygrams asking for several thounsand. The point here is to make an example.

    "This guy downloaded 30 songs. See what happened to him? It could have been you."
  • This post is quite misleading. It gives the impression that the Court reinstated the verdict. The Court merely remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the Due Process issue had been decided prematurely. Otherwise praising Judge Gertner's handling of the case, the Court concluded that the District Judge's reasoning for bypassing the common law remittitur motion was incorrect, and that she must first decide the remittitur motion. I've submitted my own post on this decision [slashdot.org], which accurately describes the import of the decision.

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