Judge slams file-sharing laws

A federal judge has approved a $675,000 fine against a Boston student for illegal file sharing – but said she was very concerned about the fairness of current copyright laws.

District Court Judge Nancy Gertner described the penalties available to music companies as ‘astronomical’. And she said that if Joel Tenenbaum’s defence had been just a little less extreme, she’d have been willing to consider it.

She also refused to uphold a bid by the four record companies involved to stop the student promoting illegal downloads, saying the word ‘promote’ was too vague to be meaningful.

Tenenbaum was found guilty of illegal file sharing in July, after illegally downloading and sharing more than 800 songs.

His defense centered around the ‘fair use’ doctrine, which allows the use of copyrighted material in certain circumstances, such as for review or academic purposes.

“The Court was prepared to consider a more expansive fair use argument than other courts have credited – perhaps one supported by facts specific to this individual and this unique period of rapid technological change,” Gertner said in her ruling. But, she said, the defense had gone too far by trying to apply fair use to more or less any circumstances.