A federal appeals court recently reinstated a $675,000 fine levied against a Boston University Ph.D. student found guilty of sharing copyrighted music online.
The Recording Industry Association of America originally sued the student, Joel Tenenbaum, in 2009. A jury subsequently found him guilty of infringing on 30 copyrights by sharing files via peer-to-peer website Kazaa, including tracks by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eminem and Incubus. He was ordered to pay more than $22,000 for each track, for a total fine of $675,000.
Tenenbaum appealed the fine, and last year Judge Nancy Gertner reduced it to $67,500, saying the original penalty had been "unconstitutionally excessive."
However, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned Gertner's decision and reinstated the original fine. The appeals court argued that if Gertner determined the fine was excessive, she needed to reduce it through a process known as remittitur, which would have given the plaintiffs the option to accept the reduced fine or request a new trial. Because she unnecessarily resorted to a constitutional basis for her decision, the appeals court rejected it.
The RIAA praised the appeals court decision but maintains that judges have no authority to reduce fines in copyright cases, Wired reports.
File-sharing sites have been on the front lines of music industry copyright infringement cases for years. In one recent ruling, a court found that cloud-based "storage locker" site MP3tunes cannot be held responsible for users who utilize the site for illegal sharing.