US court reduces piracy payout: still too high, but a step in the right direction

Those of you who’ve been wondering why any court would impose the sorts of absolutely ludicrous fines we’ve been seeing in internet “piracy” cases, penalties obscenely out of whack with the punishments for pretty much every other sort of crime, will be relieved to see a US judge returning some sanity to the process:

Judge Nancy Gertner knows that Joel Tenenbaum did it. Tenenbaum, the second US target of the RIAA’s five-year litigation campaign to complete a trial, eventually admitted his music-sharing liability on the stand—and Judge Gertner issued a directed verdict against him. But when the jury returned a $675,000 damage award, they went too far. Way too far.

In fact, according to Gertner, they trampled the Constitution’s “Due Process” clause. In a ruling today, the judge slashed the $675,000 award by a factor of 10, to $67,500.

The surprise has been a US constitutional rule that generally operates to protect corporate America suddenly being used to protect ordinary Americans. I imagine big business is still recovering from the shock:

“Reducing the jury’s $675,000 award, however, also sends another no less important message: The Due Process Clause does not merely protect large corporations, like BMW and State Farm, from grossly excessive punitive awards,” she wrote. “It also protects ordinary people like Joel Tenenbaum.”

Of course, $67,500 is still ridiculously high, and naturally the content industry parasites are appealing because they apparently believe their own garbage about copyright infringement being “theft”, and are affronted that anyone could consider something that undermines their monopoly control over cultural expression in the US as anything other than the most critical threat the country faces – but it’s a step in the right direction.

ELSEWHERE: Brazil protects the interests of its population AND the legitimate interests of content providers at the same time:

A UN treaty called the WIPO Copyright Treaty requires countries to pass laws protecting “software locks” (also called DRM or TPM). Countries around the world have adopted the treaty in different ways: in the US, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits all circumvention of software locks, even when they don’t protect copyright (for example, it would be illegal to for me to break the DRM on a Kindle to access my own novels, were they sold with Kindle DRM).

Brazil has just created the best-ever implementation of WCT. In Brazil’s version of the law, you can break DRM without breaking the law, provided you’re not also committing a copyright violation. And what’s more, any rightsholder who adds a DRM that restricts things that are allowed by Brazilian copyright laws (“fair dealing” or “fair use”) faces a fine.

Naturally, the situation here in Australia is much more murky, and probably will be interpreted closer to the ridiculous US system when it is next tested by the courts.

3 responses to “US court reduces piracy payout: still too high, but a step in the right direction

  1. Splatterbottom

    Abuse of intellectual property privileges is also theft. There should be stringent safeguards to ensure that IP trolls are jailed and fined when they abuse their IP privileges.

  2. Yeah, but there’s usually no big-money interests involved. 😦

    I’m really staggered at the music companies. Instead of putting their money and effort into encouraging new bands, new composers, better access and support for creative people (these are their resources), they abuse their prospective customers. Do they really think these kinds of cases are good PR for them? Is this guy, or anyone else he knows, ever going to buy music from them again?

  3. its a fascinating case. originally the RIIA wanted $3500 from tenebaum, for 7 infringements.

    being a student, he sent them a cheque for $500.. and they refused

    now they get $67,500… but 10 years of legal fees…

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