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Providence student’s music downloading damages left intact by Supreme Court

BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL NAGLE
THE U.S. SUPREME Court left intact a $675,000 jury verdict against a college student who downloaded and redistributed thousands of songs from the Internet without paying.
Posted 5/21/12

NEW YORK - The U.S. Supreme Court left intact a $675,000 jury verdict against a college student who downloaded and redistributed thousands of songs from the Internet without paying.

The court, without comment, refused to hear Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum’s challenge to a law that let the recording industry collect thousands of dollars from individuals for such downloading.

Tenenbaum is originally from Providence.

The jury was told to impose damages, set by U.S. copyright law, of between $750 and $150,000 per violation. Jurors set a rate of $22,500 for each of 30 songs he downloaded.

Tenenbaum said individual downloaders who don’t make money from sharing songs shouldn’t be treated the same as companies whose business is to steal copyrighted content. A U.S. appeals court rejected that argument, ruling that all illegal downloaders, regardless of their motives, are subject to the same range of penalties.

“This pernicious interpretation of the Copyright Act transforms every bit of cyberspace into a potentially exploding lawsuit and is sparking the development of a spam-litigation industry,” Tenenbaum’s lawyers said in his high court appeal.

The Recording Industry Association of America, acting on behalf of major record labels, sued more than 12,000 people and sent notices to thousands of others it claimed were illegally sharing music. The industry said it lost billions of dollars of revenue.

Tenenbaum and a woman from Minnesota took their cases to trial, and both lost. An appeals court plans to hear arguments in the Minnesota case in June.

The industry group filed the claims before 2008, when it adopted a different strategy to combat illegal downloading.

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