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Judge Rejects Record Industry's Attempt To Silence Student

Back in July, a grad student from Providence named Joel Tenenbaum was ordered by a federal jury to pay four record companies $675,000 worth of damages for illegally downloading and sharing music, and to destroy all of his illegally obtained songs. In a memorandum (PDF) released on Monday, though, U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner explained her reasoning for not ordering Tenenbaum to refrain from "promoting" illegal file sharing, much to the chagrin of the record industry that sought to silence him.

As HuffPo reports, the record companies maintain that the student had been encouraging friends to visit a Swedish Web site where he found many of his illegal files. Tenenbaum insisted he wasn't involved with the site, and Gertner agreed not to restrict what she interpreted his rights to free speech. As she wrote, "The word 'promote' is far too vague to withstand scrutiny under the First Amendment," adding that, "plaintiffs... have no right to silence defendant's criticism of the statutory regime." Tenenbaum's lawyers, meanwhile, have said that they will seek a new trial and a reduction in his penalty.

In the memorandum, Gertner also expressed sympathy for the youth of today, who grew up online and thus see nothing inherently wrong with file sharing. She said she was "deeply troubled by the rash of file-sharing lawsuits, the imbalance of resources between the parties, and the upheaval of norms of behavior brought on by the Internet." Gertner implored Congress to consider serious changes to current copyright laws, saying that, "there is a deep potential for injustice in the Copyright Act as it is currently written."

We have to be honest here: we're sorta in love with this judge. Not only did she stand firm in protecting Tenenbaum's right to express a healthy dissent against current legislation, she also gets his dissent -- which is especially reassuring. The Internet's changed the game, and record companies shouldn't be hunting down rogue dorm downloaders. The only thing we would argue is that perhaps most kids aren't quite as oblivious to copyright law as Gertner asserts. Maybe we're wrong, but we think most basically understand that downloading and sending songs isn't exactly kosher. But then again, neither is jaywalking. And for most of us nowadays, the two are nearly indiscernible. [From: The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, and Wired]

Tags: court, download, downloading, file sharing, FileSharing, first amendment, FirstAmendment