Court decimates RIAA whipping boy's fine

Joel Tenebaum, the unfortunate college student randomly chosen by the RIAA to be the poster boy for P2P file sharers, has had his ridiculous $675,000 fine reduced by a factor of ten by an appeal court judge.

Calling the original fine "unconstitutionally excessive" Judge Nancy Gertner slashed the fine to $67,500, which still represents an eye-watering $2,250 for each of the 30 songs the MAFIAA scapegoat was accused of sharing.

The original judgement, which was obviously intended as a warning shot to P2P music sharers, was seen as shocking at the time and did little to support the music industry's cause. In fact, Tenenbaum became something of a cause celebre because, as an impoverished student, there was no way he was ever going to be in a position to pay the fine.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the most interesting part of the ruling could be the conclusion that Congress never intended the guidelines on copyright law, which allow courts to impose fines of up to $150,000 per infringement, to apply to non-commercial use.

After poring over the statute books, Judge Gertner said there was "substantial evidence indicating that Congress did not contemplate that the Copyright Act’s broad statutory damages provision would be applied to college students like Tenenbaum who file-shared without any pecuniary gain."

Tenenbaum actually admitted to illegally downloading and distributing "thousands" of songs, but just 30 songs were mentioned during the trial.

You can read the full 64 page ruling here if you have a couple of hours to spare. If, like us, you have the attention span of a fruit fly, here's the juiciest bit from Judge Gertner.

"It is hard to believe that Tenenbaum’s conduct, when viewed in isolation, had a significant impact on the plaintiffs’ profits. He almost certainly would not have purchased all of the songs he downloaded if they were not available for free; thus, not all of his downloads represented lost sales for the plaintiffs.

"Also, it seems likely that the individuals who downloaded songs from Tenenbaum’s shared folder would simply have found another free source for the songs had Tenenbaum never engaged in file-sharing."

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