An appeals court has ruled that Joel Tenebaum, the Boston University student who was busted in 2009 for illegally downloading music, owes the RIAA $675,000 after all.
2009 was a bad year for Joel Tenenbaum. For the crime of sharing 30 songs online, he was slapped with a fine of $675,000, representing the maximum penalty of $22,500 per song. Things got marginally better for him in 2010 when U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner declared the penalty "unconstitutionally excessive" and lowered it to $67,500, still a hell of a pile of money but not necessarily enough to ruin Tenenbaum's life forever. But that wasn't good enough for the Recording Industry Association of America, which said it would contest the ruling.
So it did, and on Friday the RIAA won a victory of sorts as the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Gertner jumped the gun by moving directly to the constitutional question. She "should first have considered the non-constitutional issue of remittitur, which may have obviated any constitutional due process issue and attendant issues," according to the ruling. "Had the court ordered remittitur of a particular amount, Sony would have then had a choice. It could have accepted the reduced award. Or, it could have rejected the remittitur, in which case a new trial would have ensued."
In other words, according to my Wikipedia crash course in legal matters, the judge should only have gone to the question of constitutionality if remittitur didn't do the job. It's not a smashing victory for the RIAA, as the appeals court's comment "that this case raises concerns about the application of the Copyright Act which Congress may wish to examine" suggests that it's not a big fan of such punitive judgments, but for now the initial ruling is back in place, leaving Tenenbaum on the hook for $675,000.
Source: Ars Technica