Joel Tennenbaum has been found guilty of illegally downloading copyright songs from a shared music Web site and fined $675,000.
Over-ruling arguments that the Law was non-constitutional, Judge Nancy Gertner upheld the U.S. Copyright Law and the Digital Millennium Act under which the RIAA is entitled to collect fines of up to $750 to $30,000 per infringement.
Joel Tenenbaum, the 25-year-old Boston University graduate student, pleaded guilty of the charges of downloading and distributing 30 songs and will be paying $22,500 per song to four record labels for willfully infringing on the copyright of the songs by various bands, including Green Day, Incubus, Nirvana and Aerosmith. Arguably he got off lightly as the U.S. District Court jury could have ordered him to pay a maximum of $4.5 million in the case.
“We are grateful for the jury’s service and their recognition of the impact of illegal downloading on the music community,”
said a smug statement from the Recording Industry Association of America (the RIAA).
“We appreciate that Tenenbaum finally acknowledged that artists and music companies deserve to be paid for their work. From the beginning, that’s what this case has been about. We only wish he had done so sooner rather than lie about his illegal behavior,” it added.
This is the second such case to go to trial in the U.S. In July, a woman in Minneapolis was ordered to pay $1.92 million. Jammie Thomas-Rasse was fined $80,000 per song for copyright infringement for sharing 24 songs. That was declared a mistrial however. Tenenbaum’s case received media coverage when Harvard law school professor Charles Nesson said he would represent him in his fight with the RIAA who claimed to have found more than 800 illegally downloaded songs in a shared folder on his computer.
The main defence was going to have been “fair use”. In her ruling on Monday, Gertner said that Tenenbaum had not provided any “hard proof” to show how his alleged illegal music distribution constituted fair use. She had noted that Tenenbaums interpretation of fair-use laws was so broad “it would swallow the copyright protections that Congress has created.” Ray Beckerman, a N.Y-based attorney who has represented several clients in RIAA lawsuits, called the verdict “ridiculous,” but was critical of the way the case has been handled from the beginning. None of the key issues relevant to the case were touched upon or explored during the case by the defendant’s team, the RIAA lawyers or Judge Gertner, he said. “Together they did an abysmal, pathetic job of crystallizing the issues properly and of disposing of the issues properly,”Beckerman said. “I’m sure the judge will reduce the verdict, but I have no idea to what she will reduce it. She has historically given many favorable rulings to the RIAA, more than any other judge in the country.”
There is still a need for a reasonable examination of the issues, with downloading of songs being considered the prohibition of the 21st century.