District Court: $675,000 For Non-commercially Sharing 30 Songs Is Perfectly Reasonable
from the pay-up dept
Given all of that, it's easy to conflate all of those other issues with the important one: are the statutory rates for copyright infringement, especially in cases of non-commercial, personal use, Constitutional? The original judge, Nancy Gertner, argued that they were unconstitutionally excessive, which became the focus of the appeals process. The appeals court rejected the process Gertner used to come to that conclusion, saying that she should have used "remittitur" to reduce the award and offer the RIAA a chance for a new trial (as happened in the Jammie Thomas case). Instead, Gertner effectively tried to jump the line, by going straight to a Constitutional argument. The appeals court noted that it was too early in the process for that, and she should have used remittitur first. As such, it reinstated the original jury award of $675,000 for sharing 30 songs. The Supreme Court then refused to hear the case, which wasn't a huge surprise either.
So... back down at the district court, with a different judge, who doesn't seem nearly as sympathetic. Given that the judge is 80-years-old, it's perhaps not a surprise that she seemed to spend more time talking about what a naughty kid Tenenbaum was, rather than the actual reasonableness of the rates. The court has now said, not only does it not find $675,000 constitutionally excessive for sharing 30 songs, but that it doesn't even qualify for remittitur, because $675,000 is not "grossly excessive, inordinate, shocking to the conscience of the court." In other words, a $675,000 judgment is perfectly reasonable for sharing 30 songs. The judge, not surprisingly, focuses on many of the elements that we discuss above in arguing why it's not excessive, with Tenenbaum's continued use of file sharing and his lies, to support the supposed reasonableness of the ruling. She never actually looks at whether the numbers make sense, but merely suggests that because he didn't revere copyright law, that such an award is perfectly reasonable.
Unfortunately, it seems that Tenenbaum's behavior -- which we agree was not good at all -- clouds the larger issue of just how insane the statutory damages are. Some, of course, will point out that he's been accused of sharing a lot more than 30 songs, but that doesn't matter. The trial was about 30 songs. We don't punish people in a court for stuff they're not charged with and which they can't defend against. If you want to say that $675k is reasonable for thousands of songs, then he should have been charged with infringing on that many songs.
The judge argues that one of the factors that makes this "reasonable" is that if Tenenbaum had wanted to license the songs for distribution himself, the cost would have been "enormous," according to the labels. But that's a silly comparison, because this wasn't a commercial venture and he wasn't looking to set up a service -- he was just doing what millions of people around the world do -- whether you think it's right or wrong. As such, any thinking person should recognize that a $675k fine for the personal sharing of 30 songs seems offensive to the senses, even if you agree that Tenenbaum is not particularly apologetic for what he did. It really is a situation where tons of people were doing it, and right or wrong, it had become the norm. Something is wrong with a legal system that burdens people with such out of proportion awards for doing what everyone's doing.
And despite the RIAA cheering on this decision, claiming that it's "pleased" with the decision, it actually hurts them too. When ordinary people see $675,000 judgments for sharing 30 songs, they respect copyright less, because it seems so out of proportion with reality.
This case probably isn't over yet, and there will likely still be an appeal to get at the Constitutional questions. But, I'm worried that Tenenbaum's own bad actions, separate from what he's accused of, are clouding the water here, and actually make this a bad and potentially dangerous case. That the court has upheld the $675,000 isn't a surprise, but it should still be worrisome to people in terms of the precedent it will set for the next group of people accused in this manner, who didn't act the same way Tenenbaum did.