Joel Tenenbaum just got the break of his life, and rightfully so.
On Friday a Boston Judge reduced a damages award Tenenbaum was ordered to pay to four record labels after illegally downloading (and sharing) 30 songs online from the jury's initial awad of $675,000 to $67,500.
The big news out of this case -- besides a hefty reduction for Tenenbaum -- is that presiding U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner said that constitutional protection against excessive awards in civil cases applies to "ordinary people" in addition to large corporations.
In her ruling (available at Wired.com), Getner said the $675,000 award was "out of proportion with the government's legitimate interests in compensating the plaintiffs and deterring unlawful file-sharing." She added that the $67,500 award was "severe and is more than adequate to satisfy the statutory purposes and the plaintiffs' interests."
Getner didn't condone the Boston University graduate student's actions or find them to be acceptable fair use of copyrighted material.
Tenenbaum, 26, told The Boston Globe on Friday that the nine-tenths reduction was welcomed but "equally unpayable.''
I'm not sure that folks will buy the "unpayable" angle, especially considering the $40,000-per-year graduate school tuition at Boston University. Then again, it's not like you make a decent living with a doctorate in physics, which Tenenbaum is pursuing.
The decision is still a major win for the Boston University graduate student and lawyer Charles Nesson, who are taking a stand against the Recording Industry Association of America's lawsuits.
"We feel vindicated that Judge Gertner agreed that $675,000 was an unconstitutional award," Debbie Rosenbaum of joelfightsback.com says. "But it is only a step along the way toward recognizing the abusiveness of the RIAA's litigation campaign."
The RIAA is not so pleased with the compromise. In a statement it says, "With this decision, the court has substituted its judgment for that of 10 jurors as well as Congress."
The RIAA might have severely damaged its image with lawsuits, but I'm not sure anyone is going to feel too bad for a Tenenbaum, who admitted to downloading the songs via Kazaa, when he easily could have settled for $4000 before going to court.
The fact of the matter is that he broke the law and should face some sort of penalty, although $2250 per MP3 seems a bit steep. Let's hope Tenenbaum has since introduced himself to iTunes and Grooveshark.
This is the second RIAA case to go to federal court.
A judge earlier this year a judge reduced an award of $1.9 million facing Jammie Thomas-Rasset to $54,000. According to The Boston Globe, Thomas-Rassett declined an offer to settle with the recording industry for $25,000 and plans to go to trial a third time.