Joel Tenebaum Goes Back to Owing the RIAA $675,000 in File Sharing Case

Paul Lilly

Remember Joel Tenebaum? He's a 28-year-old graduate student at Boston University pursuing a physics PhD. He's also enjoying a little more than 15 minutes of fame for fighting the RIAA in a copyright case in which Mr. Tenebaum was originally ordered to pay $675,00, a amount that was later reduced to $67,500 before a federal appeals court on Friday reinstated the original verdict.

Let's backtrack for a moment. Mr. Tenebaum could have settled his case way back in 2003 for $3,500, but instead chose to send a money order for $500. His counter-offer was denied, and in 2009, a jury found him guilty of willful infringement and put him on the hook for $675,000.

In 2010, U.S. District Judge Nancy Gerner of Boston reduced the damages to $67,500, which works out to $2,250 for each of the 30 tracks. The reduced award didn't sit well with either side, and both Mr. Tenebaum and the RIAA filed appeals. Having now ruled on the matter, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the original amount.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation called it a "disappointing ruling," noting that the appellate court didn't necessarily disagree on the constitutional question of the original award, but said the court shouldn't have considered the issue in the first place.

"Citing the doctrine of 'constitutional avoidance,' which dictates that courts should avoid tackling constitutional issues unnecessarily, the court found that Judge Gertner should first have considered using a procedure called 'remittitur.' Under this procedure, she could have lowered the damages amount, but, if the record companies chose not to accept the new amount, they could have asked for a new trial," the EFF explains .

Like the case involving Jammie Thomas, this is one that will continue to bounce around the legal system, unless by some chance Mr. Tenebaum decides to cut a check for $675,000. Yeah right.

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