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Piracy The Courts

New Judge Assigned To Tenenbaum Case Upholds $675k Verdict 312

Posted by timothy
from the and-now-law-school-in-miniature dept.
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes "In SONY v Tenenbaum, the new District Judge assigned to the case has disagreed with the previous judge, and instead of reducing the $22,500 per file award to $2250 per file, has instead upheld the jury's verdict. The jury initially found defendant Joel Tenenbaum to have 'willfully' infringed the RIAA copyrights by downloading 30 mp3 files which would normally retail for 99 cents each, and awarded the plaintiff record companies $675,000 in 'statutory damages.' Tenenbaum moved to set the verdict aside on both common law remittitur grounds and constitutional due process grounds. Judge Gertner — the District Judge at the time — felt that remittitur would be a futility, and on constitutional grounds reduced the verdict to $2250 per file. The RIAA appealed. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals remanded on the ground that Judge Gertner ought to have decided the question on remittitur grounds and reached the constitutional question prematurely. By the time the case arrived back in District Court, Judge Gertner had retired, and a new judge — Judge Rya Zobel — had been assigned. Judge Zobel denied the remittitur motion. And then Judge Zobel denied the constitutional motion, leaving the larger verdict in place. I think it is reasonable to expect Tenenbaum to appeal this time around."
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New Judge Assigned To Tenenbaum Case Upholds $675k Verdict

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  • Wow. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    We all agree the courts are disgusting. And yet we are doing nothing to fix them. We need an internal affairs department for prosecutors, legislators and judges, who do nothing but watch over their shoulder for this kind of thing.

    • I don't think you understand the role of courts. If you disagree with a law, it is congress (i.e. voters) you should blame, not the courts.

      • by fnj (64210)

        If it's a jury trial, I also apportion blame to the jury. Jurors who are too stupid to educate themselves about their power, including jury nullification, offend me. If the law is stupid, the original jury could have just found the defendant not guilty; end of story.

        So in the end we are both blaming the common people.

        • Re:Wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by JWW (79176) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @05:28PM (#41101789)

          Agreed, the jury in this case should be ASHAMED of themselves. There are people who are at fault accidentally killing other human beings who receive less punishment than they are handing out for someone "stealing" 30 songs.

          The verdict handed down in this case is a life destroying verdict for a young man. That the RIAA keeps appealing for its huge award is DISGUSTING.

          Giant corporate entities are working at utterly destroying one person's life. The RIAA deserves every ounce of contempt and disdain it gets from the people.

          For companies that like to believe that they create things that move human emotions and make people think, the RIAA collectively is a horribly dark, twisted, and evil group of people (and the MPAA is even. worse.)

        • by shentino (1139071)

          That jury was hand weeded during voir dire, and is not a fair sample of the population.

          Legal wise guys that actually know the law are usually the first to go.

          It's not just made out of people that are too dumb to get out of it, but also those too smart to get to stay in.

      • And when given a choice to vote, the only people we're allowed to vote for agree on almost every topic so our recourse is what? Civil War? I'd like to think a Judge of all people would stand up and say "This is fucking ridiculous" and just start throwing cases like this out. You can't be neutral on a moving train.
      • by jxander (2605655)

        The law, generally speaking, is fine. "You infringed on $30 worth of copyright, so we're going to recoup that money."

        The problem is with the ruling that it costs nearly a million dollars to recoup $30 worth of infringement.

    • by Mitreya (579078)

      We all agree the courts are disgusting. And yet we are doing nothing to fix them.

      Judges are supposed to uphold the law. Our elected Congressmen passed the law that allows penalties of up to what? $25,000 per song? $150,000 per song?. I am not sure but it is far, far, far above $2,250
      We should not pass crappy laws and then blame the judges for upholding them. Also, perhaps he is hoping that this will go to supreme court and get stricken down as unconstitutional? (I know, fat chance...)

      • Re:Wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Hatta (162192) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @05:18PM (#41101617) Journal

        Judges are supposed to uphold the law.

        And the Eighth Amendment is part of the highest law of the land.

        We should not pass crappy laws and then blame the judges for upholding them.

        We're blaming the judge for not upholding the law. Specifically, that part of the law which states that "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed".

        You don't have to be on the SCOTUS to knock down a law that is blatantly unconstitutional. A law that conflicts with the constitution is null and void at any level.

      • by chrismcb (983081)

        Judges are supposed to uphold the law.

        No. The judges are supposed to interpret the law, and they are supposed to decide if a law is constitutional. Judges can strike down a law, that is also their job.

  • by Angrywhiteshoes (2440876) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @04:41PM (#41101083)
    I'm not sure how they can say you owe $675,000 for stealing roughly $30 worth of products. If I stole 3 CDs from Wallmart, would I also be charged $675,000? What if I stole $30 from someone? I am not familiar with the case, but I don't see on here that he stole with the intent to undermine future sales of that company, causing significant losses.

    I got caught stealing when I was younger. What happened to me was they recovered their items and I was banned from the store until I became an adult. Maybe they should just ban him from having access to these types of things, like making it illegal for him to have internet in his home, instead of an outrageous fine that most people can't afford.

    May as well just start hanging people for stealing music/movies.
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @04:47PM (#41101175) Homepage

      I'm not sure how they can say you owe $675,000 for stealing roughly $30 worth of products.

      Because the *AA's managed to pass laws that made for ridiculous statutory damages [wikipedia.org].

      the original rationale for statutory damages was that it would often be difficult to establish the number of copies that had been made by an underground pirate business and awards of statutory damages would save rightsholders from having to do so

      So, it's an inflated number to allow them to sue for massive damages on the presumption that you've cost them vast sums of lost revenue that they can't prove. It basically says that in the FBI trailer on movies.

      Not defending it, but that's how we got here. The *AA's don't believe in the concept of "personal use" or "fair use" -- as far as they are concerned, you have committed Great Evil.

    • by luther349 (645380)
      if they had there way there would be public hangings for stealing a 99 cent song. this is all bought broken copyright laws the riaa is using laws meant to punish a business not a single person but under the broken law they can. its the same for patents and why jobs are dying in the usa. cant open a shop in the usa anymore without worry of getting sued by some patent troll or taxed to death. yet we do nothing but talk about fixing it.
    • It's about distributing, leading to loss of sales. Since the true damages are impossible to establish, the congress allows for default statutory damages withing a certain range, in this case $22,500 per work. It may be too high, but he could have challenged the amount and got off with paying very little. Instead, on bad advice of some activist glory seeking lawyers he decided to challenge the constitutionality of the Copyright Act and continues to dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole.

    • Don't you know, filesharers caused the economic crisis? If you've ever torrented a CD illegally and shared it (you must have, since you torrented it), that's like 270k of damage, assuming 12 tracks! If 1% of the population of the US is doing that, it's at least 3 million people, so 810 _billion_ dollars of damages caused to the poor recording industry!

      Meanwhile, look at this guy having to cough up 675k, having to declare bankruptcy, default on his house and having his life ruined... but it's okay. Life is
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jxander (2605655)

      Basically because Sony employs thousands and thousands of lawyers, and when they win (because they have thousands and thousands of lawyers) the single defendant is required to foot the bill for all those lawyers.

      The crazy part: Sony is asking for 4.5 million dollars. Also, the initial fee that Tennenbaum was asked to pay (via extortion letter in the mail, before any lawyers were involved) was $3,500.

      Sony is really trying to set a precedent here, to give their extortion letters some clout. "Just pay the $

    • by lexsird (1208192)

      May as well start hanging people is right, but not for stealing movies and music.

      The real crime here is a 675 thousand dollar judgement for 30 dollars worth of product. The criminals are the lawyers, judges and politicians.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      And what's the average judgement amount for a wrongful death lawsuit?

    • by pruss (246395)

      IANAL, but I skimmed through the judge's decision, and it's not just for his downloading the stuff, but also for redistribution. The judge seems to think that one way to evaluate the costs of the redistribution would be to think about how much an unlimited license for all and sundry on the Internet for the songs would be worth.

      That said, it sure seems excessive, but not as ridiculously excessive as it would be just for downloading.

  • Lost the Faith (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bryansix (761547) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @04:47PM (#41101173) Homepage
    The Faith I had in the justice system has been lost. All the judges do now is allow a private organization to dictate morality AND damages. How is that justice? Damages should be between 3-10 times to be punitive. How is the original level of damages fair at all?
    • This is a very simple-minded and ultimately incorrect view of the fault. It is not the judge's fault. We are the idiots who have allowed our politicians to write these insane laws with statutory damages. A jury of our peers levied these insane damages against this person. The judges didn't write the law and didn't make the decision. They are bound by the law and cannot just make up laws as they see fit.

    • Re:Lost the Faith (Score:5, Insightful)

      by reebmmm (939463) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @05:10PM (#41101503)

      Having now read the opinion, here's how the judge came out:

      1. The jury found this guy guilty of infringement.
      2. The guy had 8 years of known infringing activities
      3. The guy destroyed evidence
      4. The guy lied repeatedly
      5. It wasn't just a matter of him downloading songs, he was uploading them too
      6. The jury got to see all the evidence
      7. Congress set the bounds for copyright infringement's statutory damages
      8. The jury pick something on the arguably low end of the range
      9. When looking at the common law rules the judge did not feel the case was inequitable under the circumstances.

      I would wager good money that had 2-5 been different, the judge WOULD have found the award inequitable.

      That said, I have some questions about why 2 and 5 were even in evidence at all. They seem irrelevant to copyright infringement of the songs at issue here. I haven't kept pace with this case, but I should think those are irrelevant unless they were themselves proved to be infringements.

      Also, it helps not to destroy evidence or lie.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        All of your attempts to slander the defendant are ultimately irrelevant.

        Nice try though: The "but he's an evil gangster" fallacy.

      • by jxander (2605655) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @05:46PM (#41102073)

        It took him 8 years to download 30 songs?

        I'll never complain about my Internet speeds again!

      • by Kjella (173770)

        Well, regarding point 2 I'd think it'd apply to character. Certainly you could in a battery case use a history of violence as proof that this is not an isolated case of losing your head but that the defendant has shown a pattern of violent behavior and lacks impulse control. I'm pretty sure the jury would convict the latter harder than the former.

      • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @10:01PM (#41104623) Homepage

        Interestingly, when plaintiffs proposed jury instructions on calculating the damages, they were flawed in such a way that the jury might mistakenly inflate the amount of the award. Tenenbaum's lawyers were really never on their game the whole way through, and as is typical, failed to object at the time. (Of course, a bunch of us in the gallery noticed immediately, and there was a good bit of whispering going on)

        The award is an even multiple of the minimum possible award, which suggests that the jury very well may have misunderstood what they were supposed to do. I've no idea if this was deliberate on the part of plaintiffs, or if they also misread the law, but I wouldn't put it past them.

    • by fnj (64210)

      You had faith in the justice system? Bwahahahaha! Sorry, it's not personal.

    • They jury could have have used Jury Nullification [wikipedia.org]. Jury's can find someone guilty but not agree with the punishment so acquit them. Of course if you even bring up nullification you'll probably be kicked off the jury. But I give the founders some credit for at least trying to make sure the average peer could apply common sense to laws.

      I wish jury nullification was taught in every school, or included in every jury summons, to let people know the power they actually wield.

  • Bankruptcy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @04:48PM (#41101187)
    Can't this kid just file for bankruptcy? Corporations do it all the time and skip out on their obligations. Liquidate all his assets (none) pay off what he can (nothing) and tell the creditors to shove it. Barring that, what else can he possibly do? Pay in $100 for the rest of his life? This is pure lunacy.
    • by Em Adespoton (792954) <slashdotonly.1.adespoton@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday August 23, 2012 @05:11PM (#41101511) Homepage Journal

      The answer is obvious: he needs to write and record 30 songs himself, and hand the copyrights over to the RIAA members involved in this suit. Payment in kind is an age-honoured tradition.

      If they still require decal damages (that's 10x), then he needs to create 300 3-minute songs. He could probably rap the legal proceedings to get the required 900 minutes of audio.

    • by FlynnMP3 (33498)

      The average total wage earnings for a working adult 65yro-25yro x $50,000 is $2 million dollars (before taxes). Since court judgements don't go away in bankruptcy, he would be stuck with at least garnished wages for 1/3 - 1/2 of his wage earning life. That would put me in a depressed funk for the rest of my life. Yeah sure, he'd has his freedom, but he might as well be in jail doing time. Or, if he is of the unstable sort anyway, suicide is an option.

  • Can somebody explain in plain English what the legal hoopla really means? To me, this case seems more like a legal Goldberg machine [wikipedia.org] than an actual court case....
    • by jxander (2605655)

      Really, that's what they're going for. Sony has near-infinite resources compared to one guy with a Pro Bono lawyer... so they're running circles around him. They've got a dozen lawyers in court, objecting to anything he does, while another dozen lawyers fight with his ISP to subpoena his net usage history and still some more lawyers and lobbyists work to get new laws passed that make copyright infringement a felony punishable by death ... etc etc etc. Sony probably hired a crew to canvas this guy's neigh

  • Ok, I respect old people, but I don't trust them - not one bit. This lady is 80 - how is she qualified to be a judge on a case that involves technology? The RIAA must have convinced her that "downloading" somehow stole their copy and they had to get them back... Anyways, I'd be curious to see the list of songs - just to see where those songs are in the charts / profit margins.
    • by sconeu (64226)

      Anyways, I'd be curious to see the list of songs - just to see where those songs are in the charts / profit margins.

      Does it matter?

      Case 1: Song is in Top 100 (or whatever). 'See, your honor? This is a best selling song, and we would have made tons more but for his piracy!!!"

      Case 2: Song has no profits. "See, your honor? Nobody bought this song because they just downloaded his pirate copy!!!"

  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @05:06PM (#41101447) Homepage

    And meanwhile if a corporation breaks the law the fine is like 50% of the profits they made from breaking the law.

    • The awesome thing is that they spend tons of cash lobbying for "tort reform" and with the other arm are using tort to roto-root people into insolvency for the pettiest of damages.
  • by Milharis (2523940) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @05:19PM (#41101639)

    If the judgement is upheld, and he has to pay the $675k, he's most likely not going to be able to pay that sum.
    What would happen then?

    I guess they would probably seize and sell his properties, but that's probably not enough.
    So would he go to jail and have his debt written off, or is he going to kept them for his whole life?
    Something else maybe?

    Basically, why fine someone a sum the judge knows that the defendant won't be able to pay? To make an example I guess, but is there something else?

    • by Kumiorava (95318)

      He can start over in some other country, it's not as bad as it sounds.

    • by niado (1650369)

      If the judgement is upheld, and he has to pay the $675k, he's most likely not going to be able to pay that sum. What would happen then?

      I guess they would probably seize and sell his properties, but that's probably not enough. So would he go to jail and have his debt written off, or is he going to kept them for his whole life? Something else maybe?

      Basically, why fine someone a sum the judge knows that the defendant won't be able to pay? To make an example I guess, but is there something else?

      If he eventually fails in appeal and refuses to pay/make payments, his wages will likely be garnished for a long time. He evidently obtained a PHD this year so his earning potential is well above average.

  • by bakuun (976228) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @06:32PM (#41102655)
    This story made me think of the excellent TED talk by Rob Reid, on copyright math. It's hilarious! http://www.ted.com/talks/rob_reid_the_8_billion_ipod.html [ted.com]
  • In case you're interested in reading the arguments I made in 2009 in this case, as to why the verdict was in violation of due process, here they are [beckermanlegal.com] (PDF)
  • I used to have thousands of my CDs ripped to .MP3s, but after I started seeing court cases like this I deleted them all and donated the CDs to my local library. I even used to purchase DRM free music too, deleted that shit. Look, I can't really PROVE that I got these music files legally. The risk of a single song costing me thousands of dollars, more if you factor in legal fees and lost work time, just isn't worth it taking the risk.

    My personal internet connection has a dynamic IP. I've looked up my "current" IP address several times on sites like You Have Downloaded [youhavedownloaded.com] and found that the previous holders of the addresses were using Bittorrent to download stuff -- I assume legally, since I don't presume guilt without supporting evidence; Unfortunately, the legal system doesn't always follow the same logic. Interestingly, the You Have Downloaded site is closed, citing inaccuracy concerns...

    I don't have much of a choice in ISPs. That said, I have to put a lot of faith in ISP staff to do proper record keeping in order to avoid wrongful litigation from goons like the RIAA or MPAA. This is the same staff of morons who gork my bill on a regular basis, and can't give me basic info like alternate DNS settings without first following a 30 step problem resolution script.

    Keeping my systems free of any legally encumbered media is unfortunately a small safeguard I must make -- I seriously can not afford to risk the alternative. Fortunately, there is a thriving local music scene where I live, and there exists creative commons licensed music and video to enjoy. I wouldn't even call what I do a "boycott" of 'mainstream' media. I'd still buy the music & movies if they came with less troubling licenses and far less dangerous litigation precedents.

    Sadly, a cost vs benefit risk analysis clearly shows the danger far outweighs the entertainment value of said media. Even worse, the "lost sales" caused by me withdrawing from their markets are most certainly attributed to "piracy".

    I still own a Sony Betamax dual tape deck...
    Paramount once sued Sony [wikipedia.org], accusing them of contributing to copyright infringement via producing a device that could be used to record live TV, or duplicate videos. Sony won that case on the grounds that although it could be used to infringe copyright, and even if infringement was the device's primary use case, there was still the POSSIBILITY that device could be used in non-infringing ways.

    My, how the times have changed, eh? I'm a long time hardware & software hacker -- I hack on all my hardware as a general rule, so I couldn't risk owning a PS3 after the Sony v G.Hotz debacle -- I would have thought his work had the POSSIBILITY of being used in non-infringing ways... Nowadays, I don't even buy their music or movies, and games with "project $10" / online unlock codes and draconian DRM are also off the table for me. Damn. This current set of copyright laws is bad for everyone.

    I sometimes joke that I started making my own games because I didn't want to hang up my controller, but I couldn't find any with EULAs I could actually agree to.

  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @07:35PM (#41103417) Homepage

    The fact that the songs normally retail for $0.99 is completely irrelevant. It would perhaps be relevant if he were merely downloading songs for his own personal enjoyment. That's not, however, what he was doing. He was downloading and then redistributing.

    The relevant price comparison should be to the cost of a fixed price license that allows the licensee to make unlimited copies and redistribute them without restriction to anyone in the world, with no requirement to track or report on any of this to the licensor.

    That license is going to cost a lot more than $0.99 per song.

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