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US Supreme Court refuses to hear Tenenbaum case

By | Published on Tuesday 22 May 2012

Joel Tennenbaum

The US Supreme Court has refused to take on the Joel Tenenbaum case, meaning the file-sharing student can now only hope that the damages he was ordered to pay the record companies for illegally sharing music files via Kazaa back in 2004 can be reduced back in the lower courts.

As much previously reported, Tenenbaum was one of the few people targeting during the Recording Industry Association Of America’s big sue-the-fans lawsuit party last decade to actually let his case get to court. He lost, and was ordered by a jury to pay $675,000 in damages.

The judge hearing the original case felt that was way too much and tried to cut the damages payment down to size. But she did so on constitutional grounds – arguing that such a high pay out for an act that in itself caused nominal damage to the plaintiffs was unconstitutional, despite it being based on parameters set out in US copyright law – rather than using a more complicated damages review process called remittitur. An appeals court subsequently criticised the judge’s process, and reinstated the $675,000 damages sum.

Tenenbaum’s legal rep Charles Nesson hoped to persuade the Supreme Court that his client’s damages were indeed unconstitutionally high, to such an extent that Judge Nancy Gertner was right to go straight to constitutional considerations when reviewing the file-sharer’s obligations, rather than going down the more time-consuming route of considering remittitur first.

But the Supreme Court declined to hear Nesson’s arguments yesterday, meaning Team Tenenbaum will have to continue to fight the damages sum in the lower courts, which could involve several more hearings and appeals yet.

Of course Tenenbaum doesn’t have $675,000 and has previously suggested he’d have to bankrupt himself if that figure stuck. Though for both sides there are points of principle at play here, even if the chances of the record companies ever getting anything near $675,000 from arguably America’s most famous file-sharer are almost zero.