In a 62-page ruling, U.S. District Court judge Nancy Gertner faulted both sides in the case -- Joel Tenenbaum and the Recording Industry Association of America -- when she cut the $675,000 award a federal jury had previously awarded. Tenenbaum's lawyer and the RIAA indicated they may appeal Judge Gertner's decision.
"There is no question that this reduced award is still severe, even harsh," Gertner wrote in the opinion late last week. "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."
The reduction follows a similar path of another landmark case in online music copying, where Jammie Thomas-Rasset saw her fine of nearly $2 million reduced to $54,000 by a federal court judge in Minnesota.
Both Thomas-Rasset, a single mother with four children, and Tenenbaum, a doctoral student, said they cannot afford the reduced judgments that were leveled against them. Thomas-Rasset has already filed an appeal in the case, even after the recording industry offered to settle for $25,000.
Judge Gertner raised another issue by taking note of the peer-to-peer incident in comparison to the example of bars and restaurants, which pay little or nothing to play music in public.
"The jury's award in this case also appears egregious in light of the damages typically imposed on restaurants, bars, and other businesses that play copyrighted songs in their establishments without first acquiring the appropriate licenses," she wrote. "I cannot conceive of any plausible rationale for the discrepancy between the level of damages imposed in pubic-performance cases and the damages awarded in this case," Judge Gertner added. "The disparity strongly suggests that the jury's $675,000 award is arbitrary and grossly excessive."