Former student ordered to pay $675,000 for sharing 30 songs

Summary:Expected or excessive?

A former Boston University student who was ordered to pay $675,000 for illegally downloading and sharing 30 songs on the Internet in 2005 has insisted he will fight the penalty, even after the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal this week.

Joel Tenenbaum, 28, of Providence, Rhode Island, said he's hoping a federal judge will reduce the amount, which equates to $22,500 per song.

"I can't believe the system would uphold a six-figure damages amount for downloading 30 songs on a file-sharing system that everybody used," Tenenbaum said, according to the Associated Press.

"I can't believe the court would uphold something that ludicrous."

In 2009, the student was ordered to pay $675,000 in costs after the Recording Industry Association of America sued him on behalf of four record labels including Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Brothers Records Inc. After an appeal, a federal judge overturned the ruling; cutting the costs to $67,500.

However, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later reinstated the original ruling. The case is now returning to the lower courts for the next round of appeals -- but this would also allow the Recording Industry Association of America to file a new case against him.

Recently graduated with a PhD in statistical physics, Tenenbaum says he doesn't have the money to settle the judgement, and will keep fighting the ruling. According to reports, during the trial an offer of settlement for $5000 was made, which the student rejected.

During the case, Tenenbaum argued that the U.S. Copyright Act is unconstitutional. Furthermore, he stated that copyright infringement amounts to "consumer copying". In contrast, the prosecution said that illegal downloads damage the recording industry due to loss of profit and reduced income.

After the Supreme Court's announcement on Monday, RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said they "were pleased with this decision".

The former student's lawyer argued that he should be forced to pay the original cost of each song, which would be $29.70 in total at 99 cents per song. Instead, the ruling for $675,000 has resulted in an increase of 2,272,627%.

It may be that in an attempt to stem the tide of illegal downloads and copyright infringement, corporations are moving towards landmark and 'scapegoat' cases. In many of the examples available of people being taken to court for the illegal downloading of songs or films, they are generally also 'seeders' -- those who download the file and then share it with peers.

In this manner, "consumer copying" is also consumer distribution without authorization. It appears to be that these corporations are targeting the distributors of content rather than those who are downloading purely for personal use -- albeit illegally.

It may be that even if attempts to close down torrent websites, ISP blocks and peer-to-peer software fail, if the media industry can scare people enough not to become seeders, then these kinds of cases may be considered damage control instead of piracy eradication.

Image credit: Screenshot/ZDNet

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Topics: Legal

About

Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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