Joel Tenenbaum, one of the few people caught sharing copyrighted content online who decided not to pay up to make it all go away, has been told to, well, pay up.
According to BBC News, in 2005 Joel Tenenbaum, then 16-years-old, was accused of file-sharing and hit with a fine of $5,250 for seven songs. He offered $500 but was declined. In 2007 the case went to court for the first time. Damages of $675,000 were eventually awarded to the music labels who sued Tenenbaum for the 31 songs he now admitted to having downloaded, but he requested a new jury trial.
Today that request was denied, with District Court Judge Rya Zobel affirming the penalty. The judge also saw fit to add an extra verbal admonishment, stating in the judgment [PDF link], “There was ample evidence of willfulness and the need for deterrence based on Tenenbaum’s blatant contempt of warnings and apparent disregard for the consequences of his actions. In spite of the overwhelming evidence from which the jury could conclude that Tenenbaum’s activities were willful, the award of $22,500 per infringement not only was at the low end of the range – only 15% of the statutory maximum – for willful infringement, but was below the statutory maximum for non-willful infringement.” Well, that makes it OK then, I guess.
Should Tenenbaum have stopped doing what he was doing when he was warned against it? Yes, of course. But does that continued infringement on copyrights, willful or otherwise, justify such a huge cash amount in damages? Most right-thinking people would say no. It doesn’t matter that it’s a lot less than the maximum that could have been awarded, it’s still too much for the crime that has been committed.
The maximum is absolutely ludicrous, as Tenenbaum would have been hit with a bill for several million dollars had the jury truly taken against him. But $675,000 is still a sum of money that means Tenenbaum will be in debt for the rest of his life, barring some miraculous lottery win. And all for downloading and distributing just 31 songs.
The RIAA sees this as a glorious victory, but what does it really achieve? Tenenbaum has had his life ruined, but the money is small change to those organizations who’ll (eventually, some day, maybe) receive it. And I can guarantee this verdict won’t do a thing to put anyone else off sharing content online. It just makes the RIAA look bad, and the record companies look greedy and incompetent. Victory!