Judge Declares File-Sharing Fine "Unconstitutional"

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Judge Declares File-Sharing Fine "Unconstitutional"

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A judge in the U.S. has reduced a $675,000 fine levied against a student convicted of file sharing by 90 percent, ruling that the original award was "unconstitutionally excessive."

Free stuff can be awfully expensive. Just ask Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum, who was clobbered with a $675,000 penalty last year for sharing 30 songs online. It may not sound like a concerted effort to bring the recording industry to its knees but the jury in the case awarded the maximum punishment anyway: $22,500 per song. Cha-ching.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner, however, decided that figure went way over the line, calling it "unconstitutionally excessive." She cut it down to $67,500, just ten percent of the original award, which she acknowledged was still "severe, even harsh."

"It not only adequately compensates the plaintiffs for the relatively minor harm that Tenenbaum caused them; it sends a strong message that those who exploit peer-to-peer networks to unlawfully download and distribute copyrighted works run the risk of incurring substantial damages awards," she wrote in her decision (PDF format). "Tenenbaum's behavior, after all, was hardly exemplary. The jury found that he not only violated the law, but did so willfully."

"Reducing the jury's $675,000 award, however, also sends another no less important message: The Due Process Clause does not merely protect large corporations, like BMW and State Farm, from grossly excessive punitive awards," she added. "It also protects ordinary people like Joel Tenenbaum."

What happens next is anybody's guess. The Recording Industry Association of America said it would "contest the ruling" but didn't commit to actually appealing it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, while Tenenbaum pointed out that while it was a welcome decision, it didn't really change anything from his perspective. "Obviously, it's better news than it could have been," he told the Boston Globe. "But it's basically equally unpayable to me."

Tenenbaum's case was only the second to make it to federal court in the U.S.; the first and far more famous case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset ended with a judgment against her of $1.92 million, an amount that was also later reduced, to $54,000. The RIAA offered to settle with Thomas-Rasset for $25,000 but she rejected the offer and the case is now about to make its third round through the courts.

via: TorrentFreak

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Andy Chalk:
Judge Declares File-Sharing Fine "Unconstitutional"

That headline is misleading. It implies that the judge decided the defendant was not guilty, when in actuality the judge just thought he was fined too much.

I agree with Marmooset. Also, fucking OUCH. I doubt I'd ever be able to pay back even the amount after the fine's reduction.

Even with the reduction thats alot of money...I know I wouldnt be able to do much with that.

Harsh...how about life destroying...and only 30 songs...

I am with the student on the part of his 'equally unpayable'. If you are going to fine someone fine them at a price they can actually pay! Makes no sense otherwise. He did a bad thing, but ruining his life over it? Seems like a giant scapegoat they set up. How many songs did he download? I imagine many have downloaded the same amount, if not more.

EDIT: Saw above post, 30 songs!?!?!?!?! This kid was set up as an example, ridiculous.

I think the amount of money that the fine incurs should be based on the quality of the song, that way the RIAA wouldn't end up with any money, since the people the represent are usually awful drek.

A welcome decision, but that is still excessive. The actual financial "harm" to the RIAA would be $0.99 per song, nothing more. Sorry if I lack any sort of compassion for the RIAA's immense loss of $30, I'm sure they could have really used those 3 pizzas, or 5 big macs, or whatever...

30 songs on Itunes is basically (at highest price per song being $1.25) is about $37.50 so his fine shouldn't be any more than $60.00, but as the first person to post said, the title was very misleading, I was about to go hunting for a good torrent of Dragonball

thethingthatlurks:
A welcome decision, but that is still excessive. The actual financial "harm" to the RIAA would be $0.99 per song, nothing more. Sorry if I lack any sort of compassion for the RIAA's immense loss of $30 in this court case, I'm sure they could have really used those 3 pizzas, or 5 big macs, or whatever...

I feel pretty much the same way. I can understand wanting to teach someone a lesson (they did break the law after all), but permanently ruining the lives of others because you lost $100 or so is flat-out evil.

Good thing file sharing is not against the law in my country. Here it's illegal to sell pirated material, not to obtain it.

thanks judge. still excessive. But better. Damn corporations can throw so much money into litigation to scapegoat one dude. bunch of ass hats!

What happens if he declares bankruptcy?

After seeing massive corporations and banks fold and people who had money in them loose everything it should be fine for a private person to do the same thing to the bastards, I could see maybe a $5000 or at most $10000 fine happening, but the better part of a hundred grand? get rooted.

It seems like this court case was to send a message to all other file-sharers, that something is 'happening'. But the way I see it is if that was the 2nd court case to go ahead over file sharing then you're pretty much safe. I know more people that DO file-share than don't.

JeanLuc761:

thethingthatlurks:
A welcome decision, but that is still excessive. The actual financial "harm" to the RIAA would be $0.99 per song, nothing more. Sorry if I lack any sort of compassion for the RIAA's immense loss of $30 in this court case, I'm sure they could have really used those 3 pizzas, or 5 big macs, or whatever...

I feel pretty much the same way. I can understand wanting to teach someone a lesson (they did break the law after all), but permanently ruining the lives of others because you lost $100 or so is flat-out evil.

It might just be the only source of income the RIAA has left. It's not like the music industry is faring terribly well right now...
There was a South Park episode on this though, worth checking out imo.
As for teaching the kid a lesson, yes! Pirating is illegal, and they should have to pay the $30 back, but that's it. 'course, if you factor in attorney fees, that amount will grow exponentially. Stupid legal system...

Jaredin:
Even with the reduction thats alot of money...I know I wouldnt be able to do much with that.

Harsh...how about life destroying...and only 30 songs...

Plus the legal fees, probably close to what the fine was originally.

thethingthatlurks:

It might just be the only source of income the RIAA has left. It's not like the music industry is faring terribly well right now...
There was a South Park episode on this though, worth checking out imo.
As for teaching the kid a lesson, yes! Pirating is illegal, and they should have to pay the $30 back, but that's it. 'course, if you factor in attorney fees, that amount will grow exponentially. Stupid legal system...

Well actually, I believe the RIAA has such ridiculous fines because of the "potential downloaders." This guy was sharing the files, not just downloading them, so they're trying to squeeze as much money as they can for the potentially lost money.

It's bullshit and a half and greed of the highest level.

JeanLuc761:

thethingthatlurks:

It might just be the only source of income the RIAA has left. It's not like the music industry is faring terribly well right now...
There was a South Park episode on this though, worth checking out imo.
As for teaching the kid a lesson, yes! Pirating is illegal, and they should have to pay the $30 back, but that's it. 'course, if you factor in attorney fees, that amount will grow exponentially. Stupid legal system...

Well actually, I believe the RIAA has such ridiculous fines because of the "potential downloaders." This guy was sharing the files, not just downloading them, so they're trying to squeeze as much money as they can for the potentially lost money.

It's bullshit and a half and greed of the highest level.

Baring in mind the fine also adds to times where you may not have been caught.

If you steal from 10 banks at $1M each, get arrested on the last time and only need to pay back the $1M because they couldn't pin you to the others... it's almost worth carrying on doing.

(Not saying I agree with the RIAA, but just see it from the other side also)

Hitman Grant:

Baring in mind the fine also adds to times where you may not have been caught.

If you steal from 10 banks at $1M each, get arrested on the last time and only need to pay back the $1M because they couldn't pin you to the others... it's almost worth carrying on doing.

(Not saying I agree with the RIAA, but just see it from the other side also)

I understand where they're coming from, but I still can't justify ruining the life of someone off of "potential losses."

JeanLuc761:

Hitman Grant:

Baring in mind the fine also adds to times where you may not have been caught.

If you steal from 10 banks at $1M each, get arrested on the last time and only need to pay back the $1M because they couldn't pin you to the others... it's almost worth carrying on doing.

(Not saying I agree with the RIAA, but just see it from the other side also)

I understand where they're coming from, but I still can't justify ruining the life of someone off of "potential losses."

Agreed. (sorry not sure if posting one word answers is aloud but wanted to make sure people knew where I stood before leaving this topic).

Thank god. Finally a Judge with a bit of common sense and enough balls to act on it. Fine is still too much, but now it's something that person will one day be able to pay.

A fine for 2,200,000% of the actual damages is still grossly excessive.

Still retardedly high, and values the songs at over $2000 each

I'm glad it was reduced. While he technically broke the law, it's not like he was a mastermind criminal with evil intentions. He just spread some music around that he liked. Corporations need to stop bullying people like this. While still a crime, it's not really a crime, is it?

Hitman Grant:

Baring in mind the fine also adds to times where you may not have been caught.

If you steal from 10 banks at $1M each, get arrested on the last time and only need to pay back the $1M because they couldn't pin you to the others... it's almost worth carrying on doing.

(Not saying I agree with the RIAA, but just see it from the other side also)

If you weren't caught the other 9 times it's because there's no evidence. If there's no evidence then people can't prove you did. The problem with accepting "potential" damages is that they're always impossible to deny, since you can't prove a negative. For all anyone can prove, you might have downloaded trillions of musics! You can't prove you didn't, they just can't prove you did. Well, guess you'll be forced to foot some unsurmountable bill for it, just in case.

The fines against file-sharing at all are quite arguably unconstitutional by themselves. You're already punishing people on potential damages with very little and very contrived evidence... Let alone add in completely unprovable potential damages.

And THIS is why I'm glad I am judgement-proof. I have no assets, no income other than 3 or 4 levels BELOW the poverty line.....civil lawsuits can't touch me. Oh, they can levy a fine, but by law I am allowed a certain monetary value before they can take stuff away.

I'm going to go do something naughty to the MPAA.

10 to 1 he was caught only because he downloaded those songs from a school computer. An expensive lesson, but one worth repeating - public internet access is heavily monitored, as it well should be. It is, after all, public.

JaredXE:
And THIS is why I'm glad I am judgement-proof. I have no assets, no income other than 3 or 4 levels BELOW the poverty line.....civil lawsuits can't touch me. Oh, they can levy a fine, but by law I am allowed a certain monetary value before they can take stuff away.

So it's like you've already been fined.

Marmooset:

JaredXE:
And THIS is why I'm glad I am judgement-proof. I have no assets, no income other than 3 or 4 levels BELOW the poverty line.....civil lawsuits can't touch me. Oh, they can levy a fine, but by law I am allowed a certain monetary value before they can take stuff away.

So it's like you've already been fined.

Exactly. Can't take what isn't there. And I can't miss what I never had.

Loonerinoes:
10 to 1 he was caught only because he downloaded those songs from a school computer. An expensive lesson, but one worth repeating - public internet access is heavily monitored, as it well should be. It is, after all, public.

Ya, for every one who downloads files, NEVER EVER FUCKING EVER DOWNLOAD FROM PUBLIC COMPUTERS, LET ALONE FROM A COLLEGE NETWORK. Your chances of of being traced goes up like 1000%.

douchebaggery on part of the RIAA doesn't help their cause. Poking rebels does nothing but make the illegal activity worse.

For those wondering why the charges are so big. Its because he most likely also has to pay for the legal fees for everyone.

dfphetteplace:
I think the amount of money that the fine incurs should be based on the quality of the song, that way the RIAA wouldn't end up with any money, since the people the represent are usually awful drek.

True true...Lady Gaga would equate out to a handful of dirt in this instance :)

Even at one tenth the original fee, that is a flagrantly excessive award that is in no way even remotely proportionate to any "damages" incurred, presuming there even are damages - as "file-sharing" is not theft, there is no damage from the act of downloading music itself. What the RIAA argues is that those downloads each represent lost sales, and they further suggest that making those files available for further redistribution via the (probably now defunct) file-sharing network should make the defendant liable for an indeterminate number of subsequent "lost sales", to the tune of ridiculous sums of money.

This is clearly nonsense - for one, there is no way to be certain that, had the ability to use file-sharing networks to download specific songs not existed, the defendant would have ever purchased the items in question; if they were never going to buy the items in the first place, they haven't deprived the labels of any income. Obviously people will disagree on this point, and I'll happily assert that defendants should be made to pay the real cost of the items they acquired through extra-legal means, but it's the second part, holding defendants accountable for the actions of vague "others" that I take issue with.

It's very hard to believe that anyone who the RIAA has targeted could have ever, through their own actions, caused enough 'damages' to warrant even a minuscule fraction of what juries, swayed as they are by emotions and beholden to absurd laws the RIAA pushed through Congress, have awarded. The defendants in these cases downloaded songs, meaning the original source of the copyright infraction originated elsewhere - if they had not done so the file-sharing would have continued regardless! And the amount of individual subsequent infractions that could realistically be directly linked back to those individuals keeping said files available for future 'sharing', when multiplied by the real price of the items, is nowhere even close to justifying the damages the RIAA actually seeks.

See, the really onerous aspect to these cases is they're making scapegoats out of the defendants by attempting to punish them for the actions of others - if I download a file and then share it with, say... 100 people? At $.99 a pop there would be $99.99 in damages that could be directly linked back to me - whether or not the 100 people who downloaded it from me could have simply gotten it elsewhere is another issue, but at the very least there's a clear link to a hundred bucks of music that wasn't paid for: $.99 for the song I nabbed, and $99 for the copies others nabbed from me. Which is frankly chump change - but what if you make me liable for the 100 people that the 100 people who nabbed the file from me in turn each passed it on to? Well that's $999,900, a much larger number, and the sort that the RIAA is clearly arguing these defendants are liable for.

Which is a bloody miscarriage of justice if there ever was one, because you cannot be held accountable for the actions of strangers. Quite simply, they're trying to make these scapegoats liable for file-sharing (and the perceived losses they incur from said sharing) itself, but such claims cannot directly be linked to their actions anymore! They're trying you not only for your illegal downloads (which would be a pittance unless you've swiped hundreds of thousands of files yourself) and the subsequent uploads you directly provided (which they probably cannot even clearly quantify and so are 'guesstimating' as high as they possibly can), but also the uploads all those people made, since they haven't caught those folks but they have you dead to rights. That is reprehensibly vile.

I don't care how personally unsympathetic you might be to the "plight" that file-sharers have found themselves in through their own admittedly infringing actions, but if you can look at the judgments being awarded and not bat an eye? You're a horrible monster and you probably work for the RIAA. There is simply no way anyone with a conscience can justify the recording industry's actions, no matter how one feels about the illegality of file-sharing or any antipathy one has regarding file-sharers themselves (who are by all accounts infringing on copyright). These are regular people being ruined for what amounts to a drop of rain in a monsoon - the music industry, unwilling to accept that the status quo has irrevocably changed, is crucifying them over a pittance.

These folks have broken a window on the RIAA's palatial mansion, only to then be taken to court for the value of their entire estate, and their children's estate, yea, unto the 10th generation... over a bloody broken window. It's every bit as stupid when it's the other way around and ridiculous sums are awarded to folks who are just like your or me except for the bit where they're litigious asshats without common sense, but at least the major corporations they target can actually afford to pay.

Natdaprat:
While still a crime, it's not really a crime, is it?

It's not even a crime actually - it's not legal, but these court cases are not criminal ones, they're civil cases. The State doesn't care about your file-sharing, except where it lets corporate lawyers write laws about 'acceptable damages' and dreck like the DMCA. Downloading files is like breach of contract - neither is going to net you jail time (here in the States at least), any action taken against you because of it is a civil claim, not a criminal case.

In the event that someone gets caught on a public network sharing files, why isn't the public institution also responsible for the activity of the network? After all, they provide the service (especially in a college atmosphere), and the responsibility to police that bandwidth for illegal activity should fall on the shoulders of the institution providing the access. After all, it isn't like it is hard to figure out if someone is doing such activity because of the network activity to one point, so it is easy to trace.
But in this case, and the previous one that already has been closed, the fines the RIAA is leveraging against people is totally ridiculous. If they have the ability to track one individual file from a P2P site from the source to the all the peers, then why do they simply go after the source share and not nail all the people that downloaded the file? You'd think the tactic of the drug war would set an example for this... you don't go after the head of the organization without picking up all the little guys that work under them and benefit from their activity. Also, if they can prove without a shadow of a doubt that the defendant clearly broke the law from their internet activity, then what's the sense of having a long drawn-out trial? Just to impose a huge fine on someone who will likely never be able to afford to pay it to "send a message"? What's the point in that? More B.S. scare tactics to make people feel guilty about not having enough money to buy cds and dvds at retail price. I agree with everyone else: they should just charge them the cost of the song if it was individually bought. After all, that is all the money they would be out in the first place. If you steal a loaf of bread from a store, you don't get fined the cost of processing the raw materials, the man-hours required to make it, the shipping cost to the store, and then again for each individual slice of bread in the bag. "Unfair" makes more sense than "unconstitutional".

thethingthatlurks:

It might just be the only source of income the RIAA has left. It's not like the music industry is faring terribly well right now...

You know one of the reasons they're faring so poorly?

Suing their customers.

Granted, 700,000 bucks is probably more than they would ever get from him, so it's technically still a win.

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