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

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

Summary: Expected or excessive?

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TOPICS: Legal
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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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33 comments
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  • A more appropriate but still very strict penalty

    would be about 500 hours community service plus the cost of the license for the illegal files plus court costs. Heck, even if the service was just to mop the floors of various RIAA member offices so they can feel they got something, at least that punishment would be more in line with the crime. A penalty like that would curb copyright violations just as much as current penalties do (in other words, either people will do it or they won't), plus it would give the RIAA reasonable reparations, plus it would punish the violators justly in a manner which will make them think twice about doing it again but without ruining their lives.
    Michael Kelly
    • Agreed.

      I understand this guy did something illegal - sure he downloaded the songs without paying for them, so I look at it as I would any misdemeanor, like stealing a couple of candy bars or softdrinks. Pay the cost, and live with the criminal record.

      Now he did redistribute the songs, which is a different matter, still can the RIAA prove they lost $22,500 per song? I doubt that, so the number sounds BS to me.
      William Farrel
    • Why should the RIAA benefit?

      I like the direction you are going but instead of the community service being done for the RIAA it should be done for the artist who's work was illegally downloaded either directly or for a charity that artist supports.
      NonFanboy
      • What kind of charity would he work for

        If he pirated King Diamond or Amon Amarth songs?
        johnsmith9875
  • No sympathy for him.

    He was offered a settlement, he refused it. Now he has to pay the full amount.
    ye
    • Settlement?

      What was the settlement offer?
      hoaxoner
      • $5,000.

        Second sentence in the second paragraph. I suspect, like with Jamie Thomas, the RIAA would be willing to settle for something more than the initial settlement offer but considerably less than the $675K.
        ye
    • The "full amount" is pure BS

      And the RIAA is full of crap. He downloaded the songs so 30 songs individually on iTunes would be $30usd give or take... which would be a ridiculous amount to go to court over but $675,000? This is nothing more than greed. I would not have "settled" for $5,000 either.
      NonFanboy
      • It's not about compensation.

        It's about deterring. If the penalty for sharing songs was the cost of the song there's little incentive not to do it because even if you get caught the penalty is significantly lower than the gains.
        ye
      • @ye

        That's a bullsh1t argument when it comes to that amount of money. I could possibly see a total fine of $5,000 or even $10,000. Not $675,000.
        NonFanboy
  • The wonderful US justice system strikes again !

    This case and many others are why the U.S justice system is a joke. The punishment no longer fits the crime. It is who has the better lawyers very sad.
    MLHACK
    • Sure it does. The penalties are prescribed by law.

      He violated the law, he has to pay the penalties. If he didn't like the penalties he shouldn't have broken the law. Or he should have taken the offer. I feel no sympathy for this guy.
      ye
      • Have they proven

        This one person caused them to lose, "$22,500" per song? That he let 22,500 people have copies? A song is only worth $.99, to $1.29 (depending on the sound quality). Can the Ripoff Artists" in the RIAA prove he did it? These are serious questions.
        Jumpin Jack Flash
      • They don't have to.

        The penalties for his crime are prescribed in law. They don't have to prove actual damages unless they opt to recover them. They have opted for the statutory damages.
        ye
      • The Eighth Amendment

        The penalties appear to me to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment. If a kid steals a pack of gum, it cannot be reasonable for him to pay many thousands times the worth of the gum in compensation. This is a clear violation of the constitution. Also, technically, copyright infringement is not stealing, because content owners aren't being deprived of their property.
        P. Douglas
      • Perhaps. Regardless if he wasn't prepared to do the time.

        @P. Douglas:

        He shouldn't have committed the crime. Or he should have accepted the settlement offer which was quite reasonable.
        ye
      • Who asked you

        Trolling, ye?
        ScorpioBlack
      • @ye

        [b]The penalties for his crime are prescribed in law.[/b]

        Show me where it says that illegally downloading a song will cost $22,500 per song.
        NonFanboy
      • Abusing the law

        @ye,

        Suppose you had a kid, and he was arrested for speeding; would you say the same thing if he was given several life sentences for his crime? The constitution places constraints on laws, and lawmakers have to respect them. Speeding and drunk driving have far greater consequences on society, and we are restrained in the amount of punishment we mete out for these crimes; yet copyright infringement, which results in no physical or psychological harm to anyone, and which at best marginally affects certain corporations' bottom line, is punished with virtually no restraint? If copyright fines need to be preposterously high to deter crime, why aren't the penalties for far more egregious crimes just as high, or even higher?

        It is obvious that copyright law has been abused by corporations, and the government is in the pocket of these corporations.
        P. Douglas
      • The Copyright Act allows for $7,500 to $150K per infraction.

        @NonFanboy :

        Look it up.
        ye