The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled Tuesday that Joel Tenenbaum, a former Boston University graduate student being sued for illegally sharing music, must pay his fine in full despite having waged a legal battle of appeals for six years.
The court at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston affirmed a decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts claiming a jury’s award of $675,000 to Sony Corporation of America did not violate Tenenbaum’s constitutional right to due process, according to court documents released Tuesday.
“This happens every year,” Tenenbaum said in a Wednesday interview with The Daily Free Press. “Now we have more legal options in front of us, we have more appeals to file and the process continues.”
In 2007, Sony sued Tenenbaum for illegally downloading and distributing 30 files of music between 1999 and 2007.
Tenenbaum argued the size of the award was unconstitutional because it did not correlate with the damages he caused to the music industry, which he estimated to be no more than $450.
He said court officials seemed very unreceptive to his case during his hearing.
“The judges seemed really shut down about this whole thing,” Tenenbaum said. “They acted as if the issues that were raised were already closed and had already been resolved.”
Tenebaum said his council did the best they could by presenting a strong argument. They all will continue to fight their battle using legal instruments available to them.
Charles Nesson, Harvard Law School professor and Tenenbaum’s attorney, said the case is unusual because Tenenbaum insisted upon questioning the constitutionality of the fine placed on him. Had he simply settled the case, Nesson said Tenenbaum would have been fined the minimum amount.
Nesson said according to the statute, Tenenbaum would have been charged $22,500, which is $750 per illegally downloaded song. Since he challenged the issue, he now must pay approximately 90 times more than originally required by the statute.
“He [Tenenbaum] sees the injustice of what is being done, and just can’t believe the fact that judges in the highest courts go out of their way to misstate the issue that he tries to raise,” Nesson said.
Nesson said while statutory damages under the Copyright Act are intended both to compensate for losses and to discourage future violations, imposing disproportionate damages to a defendant’s personal offense is a fundamental injustice.
Additionally, Nesson also said he does not know what could have been done differently to produce a more favorable outcome. However, he said he and his team will continue to petition for the case in the hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will see a problem with the most recent appellate ruling.
“I will petition for a rehearing before the court and before the First Circuit,” Nesson said. “I do not think I’ll be successful in The First Circuit … it’s the step after the rehearing en banc [rehearing before the entire court bench], which we will most seriously advance, but I am just not predicting success.”