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Joel Tenenbaum, a graduate student from Providence, R.I., says he still can't afford the fine that a judge cut to 10 per cent of a jury's award. ((Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Associated Press))

A judge has drastically reduced a $675,000 US verdict against a graduate student charged with illegally downloading and sharing 30 songs.

Joel Tenenbaum, who attends Boston University, was sued by some of the biggest music companies in the world who said he violated copyright rules. The student admitted in court to downloading songs between 1999 and 2007 and a jury assessed the damage award last July.

Now Tenenbaum, who had vowed not to use donations to pay the award, has caught a break.

On Friday, U.S. District Court judge Nancy Gertner in Boston cut the damage award to $67,500, stating the original fine was "unconstitutionally excessive" and "wholly out-of-proportion."

Gertner added that the revised amount "not only adequately compensates the plaintiffs for the relatively minor harm that Tenenbaum caused them; it sends a strong message that those who exploit peer-to-peer networks to unlawfully download and distribute copyrighted works run the risk of incurring substantial damages awards."

Gertner also ruled against a new trial.

Tenenbaum says that while he's happy the fine was trimmed, he still cannot afford the new amount, which is to be paid out to Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Bros. Records Inc, Atlantic Recording Corp Arista Records LLC and UMG Recordings Inc.

'Still seems ridiculous'

"I still don't have $70,000 — and $2,000 per song still seems ridiculous in light of the fact that you can buy them for 99 cents on iTunes," Tenenbaum said. "I mean $675,000 was also absurd."

The Recording Industry Association of America was not sympathetic, saying that the group will appeal the court ruling.

"With this decision, the court has substituted its judgment for that of 10 jurors as well as Congress," RIAA said in a statement.

"For nearly a week, a federal jury carefully considered the issues involved in this case, including the profound harm suffered by the music community precisely because of the activity that the defendant admitted engaging in," according to the RIAA statement.

Gertner's decision comes just months after a federal judge in Minneapolis slashed a $1.92 million US verdict against a woman found liable last year of sharing 24 songs over the Internet, calling the jury's penalty "monstrous and shocking." Jammie Thomas-Rassert's fine was clawed back to $54,000.

With files from The Associated Press