Court cuts peer-to-peer file sharing penalty by a factor of ten

Back in college, perhaps you found yourself loading up Kazaa and Limewire after a drunken night of revelry, trying desperately to find a copy of "Man! I Feel Like a Woman," before passing out at your desk, not realizing you were sharing an entire library of music the whole time. If you managed to make it through those years without ever getting busted, well, you were one of the lucky ones. But it's not over yet.

Just in case you'd forgotten about the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) five-year litigation campaign against peer-to-peer file sharing (which ended in December of 2008), Friday turned out a revision to the second verdict of the crusade.

Last year, a jury awarded the RIAA a handsome sum from Joel Tenenbaum, $675,000, an amount he probably couldn't afford. Thankfully for Tenenbaum, Judge Nancy Gertner reduced the punishment down to a slightly more reasonable $67,500 late on Friday afternoon. The reasoning behind Judge Gertner's decision was that the original punishment was "unconstitutionally excessive."

Now then, before you start categorically sifting through each of your iTunes tracks to figure out which ones you might have "borrowed" from an anonymous pal back in college, you might want to keep in mind this crusade ended in 2008. Tenenbaum was sued over 30 songs he downloaded and shared online between 1999 and 2007 and at $2,250 a song this ruling is the same amount the court forced Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the first file-sharing defendant to pay. While the RIAA filed suit against about 30,000 people in their fight against infringement, Tenenbaum and Thomas-Rasset were the only two cases to go to trial.

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Even though it looks like the RIAA's current fight against humanity is over, you're not out of the water completely if you've found yourself accidentally downloading media. In the last year, the US Copyright Group has sued over 14,000 people for swapping copies of indie films like The Hurt Locker and Far Cry. While none of these have gone to trial yet, many have been settled out of court, and many more are still pending. Basically, if you're still loading up Limewire every evening like it's a crack pipe, you might want to start reconsidering (or just ante up for a Rhapsody subscription or something -- this is 2010, after all).

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