A man ordered to pay $675,000 for sharing 30 songs on Kazaa has failed in a bid for a retrial. Joel Tenenbaum will now have to pay the fine, declare bankruptcy, or find one hell of a legal loophole to take the case further.
Tenenbaum shared the songs almost a decade ago and received a demand for $5,250 for sharing tracks, which he declined to pay. It wasn’t until 2007 that the resulting case went to court and he was hit with the fine, equating to $22,500 per track.
The judge in the case then agreed with Tenenbaum’s request for remittur, a legal process by which a judge reduced a jury’s damages award because it is excessive. She cut the award by around 90 percent.
The record labels that brought the case then successfully appealed this verdict in 2009, restoring the original award. Tenenbaum in turn took this to a federal appeal which concluded today.
Judge Rya Zobel ruled that the award must stand. He said there was overwhelming evidence that Tenanbaum’s copyright breaches were wilful (that is, he knew what he was doing was wrong) and therefore the jury was perfectly within its rights to pick any figure it liked within the allowable range of $750 to $150,000 per track. In other words, it would have been perfectly legal for the jury to have fined Tenenbaum as much as $4.5 million.
The Supreme Court has already declined to hear the case while the legal process was ongoing. To take the case any further, Tenenbaum’s lawyers would need to find a specific point of dispute about the law itself rather than the facts of his situation.
The only thing close to that would be to challenge either the concept of juries being allowed to award widely varying damages for each individual copyright offense, or the concept of copyright damages being punitive rather than compensatory, but there’s been no signs of the Supreme Court considering either of those topics worthy of examination.