In a major setback for the recording industry, a Boston judge yesterday slashed by 90 percent a $675,000 damages award that a Boston University graduate student had been ordered to pay to four record labels for illegally downloading 30 songs and sharing them online.
[…] “There is no question that this reduced award is still severe, even harsh,’’ she wrote in a 62-page order [local copy]. “It not only adequately compensates the plaintiffs for the relatively minor harm that Tenenbaum caused them; it sends a strong message that those who exploit peer-to-peer networks to unlawfully download and distribute copyrighted works run the risk of in curring substantial damages awards.’’
But the reduction, she said, also sends an equally important message that the constitutional protection against grossly excessive punitive awards in civil suits protects not only big corporations but “ordinary people like Joel Tenenbaum.’’
Congress, she said, never envisioned that the Digital Theft Deterrence Act of 1999 would subject people like Tenenbaum to huge statutory damages for violating copyright law through illegal file sharing.