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Judge Cuts Joel Tenenbaum's 'Unconstitutional' File Sharing Fine

appeals courtRemember Joel Tenenbaum, the college student who'd been ordered by a federal jury to pay $675,000 in damages to four record companies, all because he illegally downloaded and shared music? When we first caught wind of this story, we were shocked (and more than a little terrified) to realize that P2P file sharing could wind up costing us such a hefty chunk of cash. But now, the same judge who convicted Tenenbaum, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner, has issued a new opinion on the federal jury's punishment -- and she's not happy with it, either.

In her opinion, Gertner excoriated the jury for issuing a fine that was "unconstitutionally excessive," and, in her ruling, reduced the punishment from $675,000 to just $67,500. The judge went on to argue that the jury's decision was in blatant defiance of the Constitution's "Due Process" clause, which protects defendants from outrageous liabilities. She also cited U.S. District Court of Minnesota Judge Michael Davis's previous ruling on exorbitant copyright infringement liability as legal justification for her decision. "To borrow Chief Judge Michael J. Davis's characterization of a smaller statutory damages award in an analogous file-sharing case, the award here is simply 'unprecedented and oppressive,'" Gertner wrote.

According to Ars technica, the RIAA is none too pleased with Gertner's assessment, and, in a statement, criticized the judge's blatant disregard for "the profound economic and artistic harm caused when hundreds of songs are illegally distributed for free to millions of strangers on file-sharing networks." The organization also made it clear that it will formally challenge Gertner's ruling, a reality for which the judge seems fully prepared.

Although she acknowledges that Tenenbaum violated copyright infringement laws, Gertner remains unconvinced that "the Copyright Act's broad statutory damages provision [to] be applied to college students like Tenenbaum who file-shared without any pecuniary gain." We, of course, completely agree with the Judge. The only problem, though, is that Congress hasn't taken any measurable steps to cap awards issued within this kind of context. Federal judges, therefore, have essentially taken it upon themselves to set their own standards and precedents in an unregulated, new legal frontier. And with many more copyright lawsuits working their way through U.S. courts, it seems high time that the country's lawmakers step in, and save those involved a lot more time -- and money. [From: Arstechnica]

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