Massachusetts U.S. District Court William Young has been teaching evidence law for as long as I can recall, even as far back as his pre-federal court days, when he was on the Superior Court bench (Judge Young was appointed to the federal bench in 1985, and had been a Massachusetts Superior Court Judge from 1978 to 1985).
So it comes as a surprise to many when Judge Young admits he made an evidence-related error during a recent patent trial, and that as a result he will order a new trial.
Out of more than 30,000 cases filed against downloaders by the record companies only two end-user download cases have gone to trial and judgment: the Tenenbaum case in Boston, and the case against Jammie Thomas-Rassett in Minnesota.
In the second case, the jury awarded the copyright owners $2 million for downloading (and allegedly distributing) 24 songs. The federal judge to whom the case is assigned has now lowered that amount to $2,250 per song (the legal term of the judge’s action is “remittitur”).
Some quotes from the Thomas-Rassett January 22, 2010 decision:
After long and careful deliberation, the Court . . . remits the damages award to $2,250 per song – three times the statutory minimum. The need for deterrence cannot justify a $2 million verdict for stealing and illegally distributing 24 songs for the sole purpose of obtaining free music. . . . although Plaintiffs were not required to prove their actual damages, statutory damages must still bear some relation to actual damages.
A table from Branko Gerovac’s website, Empirical Reality compares the technology areas of Massachusetts and Silicon Valley The two areas are far more alike, on the statistical level, than I had realized –
San Francisco CSA
Population 25 years and over
Graduate or professional degree
Population 16 years and over
In labor force
Median household income (dollars)
Mean earnings (dollars)
Per capita income (dollars)
Owner-occupied housing units
Median home value (dollars)
(* CSA stands for “Combined Statistical Area”)
However, it’s no more accurate to say these two regions are comparable than it is to say that two 175 pound men are comparable – one may be all muscle, the other, well …..
Joel’s last chance before Massachusetts Federal District Court Judge Gertner (“Joel Fights Back”) is his post-judgment motion to set aside or reduce the damages award against him on the grounds that the judgment is unconstitutional – after all, what government would punish a student to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars for a crummy mp3 download he could have purchased for less than a buck? Ours, of course.