Play it Again: Court Upholds $675K Judgment Against Joel Tenenbaum

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 21, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Joel Tenenbaum should resume penny-pinching.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a $675,000 judgment against Tenenbaum in an illegal downloading case last week, after District Court Judge Nancy Gertner reduced the sentence to $67,500.

Sony sued Tenenbaum in 2007 for willful infringement of copyright laws after Tenenbaum downloaded and distributed copyrighted music. Sony sought statutory, rather than actual damages. The jury found that Tenenbaum had willfully infringed each of Sony's 30 copyrighted works at issue in the case, and returned a damage award, within the statutory range, of $22,500 per infringement, totaling $675,000.

Tenenbaum filed a post-trial motion seeking a new trial on the grounds that common law remittitur was available and appropriate in the case, and the award was so excessive that it violated due process. Judge Gertner denied the new trial request, but reduced the award, without a decision on the remittitur issue, because Sony and the Recording Industry Association of America were not open to a reduced figure.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals found that Judge Gertner committed reversible error when she bypassed the issue of common law remittitur and decided to reduce an award she deemed constitutionally excessive.

The court noted that facing the constitutional question of whether the award violated due process was not inevitable. The district court should first have considered the non-constitutional issue of remittitur, which may have obviated any constitutional due process issue and attendant issues.

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, which would have led to a new trial.

For those of you on Team Tenenbaum, the case isn't over yet. In addition to reinstating the $675,000 award, the First Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court. If, on remand, the district court allows an award reduction through remittitur, Sony will be given the choice of accepting the reduced award or re-litigating in a new trial.

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