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Big media scores a major win over U.S. citizens

Want to pirate music?  You'd be better off breaking into a store and stealing CDs in the real world.

That's the message sent by U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts Judge Rya W. Zobel who sided [PDF] with fellow Judge Nancy Gertner who upheld [PDF] a jury's ruling in the case RIAA v. Tenenbaum that the defendant was liable for $675,000 in damages for "willful infringement" of 30 songs via Kazaa.

Judge Gertner had subsequently reduced [PDF] the damages to $67,500, commenting:

[Recent] decisions have underscored the fact that the Constitution protects not only criminal defendants from the imposition of "cruel and unusual punishments," U.S. Const. amend. VIII, but also civil defendants facing arbitrarily high punitive awards.

The U.S. Recording Industry Association of America and its major media labels disagreed that asking a graduate student in physics, who typically earns between a $15,000-$30,000 USD yearly stipend, to pay $675,000 for non-commercial infringement of 30 works was unfair.  Thus it appealed the ruling.

Mr. Tenenbaum also appealed the ruling, with his attorney arguing the jury received improper instructions and that the fine was still too excessive.

The new ruling by Judge Zobel addressed those appeals, leaning heavily in the RIAA's favor.  As a result of the appeals, the reduction by Judge Gertner, who is now retired, is vacated.  That means Mr. Tenenbaum is now on the hook for the full $675,000 USD in damages, punishment the retired Judge Gertner argued was unconstitutionally cruel.

But Mr. Tenenbaum's options for escaping that massive fine are dwindling, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined [PDF] to hear the case.

Mr. Tenenbaum is at least fiscally a bit better prepared to deal with the crippling economic sanctions that a jury of his peers leveled on him.  He received a Ph.D in physics from Boston University in 2012, having written 9 peer-reviewed papers.  The average for various Ph.D positions in physics ranges from $80,000 to $90,000 USD [source], so with federal taxes and basic living expenses, Mr. Tenenbaum could theoretically pay off his debt to big media in 15 to 20 years. 

Joel Tenenbaum
Joel Tenenbaum recently received his Ph.D in physics from Boston University. [Image Source: BU]

The BU student was represented by Harvard Law School Professor Charles Nesson, a prominent critic of the RIAA.

Fortunately for grad students everywhere there probably won't be a lot more cases like Mr. Tenenbaum's; the RIAA has largely halted its threats campaign, after it lost far more money than it earned.  Of course if the RIAA succeeds in lobbying politicians to pass certain laws, taxpayers could be forced to pick up the high bills for new and even more ambitious copyright crackdowns at the behest of big media.

(The original number of songs to be considered in the 2007 trial was 31, but one song was removed.)

Source: U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts via Beckerman Legal

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By derp on 8/24/2012 8:30:34 PM , Rating: 5
that is horrible. nothing stupider...i mean, talk about cruel and unusual.

RE: stupid
By Ammohunt on 8/24/2012 9:07:19 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah its cruel and unusual that the RIAA thinks the works of the artists they represent are worth that much money let alone the $99 itunes charges.

RE: stupid
By Mitch101 on 8/24/2012 10:05:47 PM , Rating: 3
Worse the artists generally get nothing from the suits. RIAA claim the artist/recording studios lost then why aren't the artists getting a part of that settlement?

Artists really should go direct without the labels after all many radio stations don't even play music they are all talk.

RE: stupid
By StevoLincolnite on 8/25/2012 12:58:33 AM , Rating: 3
It's meant to deter other people from thinking about doing the same, that's the idea anyway.
In practice it makes little difference, this is still wrong regardless, getting caught with drugs you get a lesser fine than this.

I'm amazed your internet providers give out your information so they can track you down, our internet providers essentially gave them the finger, went to court and won.

RE: stupid
By Solandri on 8/25/2012 2:19:02 AM , Rating: 5
It's meant to deter other people from thinking about doing the same, that's the idea anyway.

Thing is it's based on completely wrong reasoning. The whole reason copyright penalties are so high per infringed work is to penalize the CD bootlegger. They run off a few thousand copies of a CD and make $10,000-$20,000. So you need a bigger fine to deter them.

But the RIAA has successfully applied that penalty to personal filesharing. What's the difference you ask? With the bootlegger, you only fine the bootlegger. He's responsible for all the wrong-doing, so pays the entire penalty. The people who bought CDs from him aren't penalized. If there were (say) 5,000 cases of infringement, the fine reflects 5,000 illegal copies.

In this case, you fine this one guy that huge amount for filesharing. Then you can go after all the people he shared files with and fine them. If each of them is fined the same amount, then you have 5,000 cases of infringement, but the fine reflects (5000 copies) * (5000 people) = 25 million infringements. That's the huge hole in the "making available" argument. With that flawed reasoning, you're potentially fining for 25 million copies when in reality only 5,000 copies were made.

It's really simple. If 5,000 people share a song, then by definition they've made 5,000 copies. That means each person made one copy. Ergo they should be fined for stealing one song. Not the 4,999 other copies made by others. Fine him like 10x or 100x the cost of a song so next time he'll buy it instead.

Fining him $675k is actually worse than the bootlegger case. With the bootlegger, all the people who got illegal copies are indemnified by the fine. The bootlegger paid the entire penalty. But with filesharing, every person who shared a file with him could also potentially be fined $675k. It's mathematical nonsense.

RE: stupid
By christojojo on 8/27/2012 10:02:28 AM , Rating: 2
Dont forget they are assuming that everyone he shared with downloaded the entire copy from him not just one bit or even a few. He could have potentially shared30 (31) unusable portions and they are fining him like a bootlegger.

RE: stupid
By whitt107 on 8/25/2012 3:04:26 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think it's high enough, I think he should be forced to pay 1 billion dollars for his ridiculous infringement.

Ridiculous suit needs more ridiculous penalty, me thinks.

RE: stupid
By whitt107 on 8/25/2012 3:06:48 AM , Rating: 1
Then Apple should get 1 Trillion dollars from Samsung, and Dr. Evil can be happy.

RE: stupid
By Reclaimer77 on 8/25/2012 3:10:25 AM , Rating: 2
RE: stupid
By leviathan05 on 8/24/2012 9:20:11 PM , Rating: 4
Yep, irreparably harming this guy's life for what amounts to probably $30. Good job court system, politicians, and lawyers that made this possible.

RE: stupid
By GulWestfale on 8/24/2012 9:38:41 PM , Rating: 2
maybe he could collect the cash with a crowdfunding thing, like the tesla museum. i'd give a buck or two.

RE: stupid
By Natch on 8/27/2012 8:21:17 AM , Rating: 4
Sadly, this is considered "fair" by someone who's likely earning a nice six figure salary as a judge, and probably made more than that, as an attorney, prior to sitting on the bench.

This guy's best bet is to say screw it, move overseas, and never pay them a dime. Not likely the RIAA has enough power to prevent him the occasional visit back home, on his new passport (from wherever he moves to).

RE: stupid
By Flunk on 8/31/2012 3:04:14 PM , Rating: 2
He will have to declare bankruptcy, this entire thing doesn't make sense. I think the fine should be based on the total number of copies transferred to the tune of the lowest retail price ever offered for the piece. Also, partial copies should be counted at partial value based on the percentage complete they were.

That would make it pointless for the RIAA to sue people for small numbers of transfers and only the real hardcore pirates would ever be prosecuted. Not a guy who shared 30 songs.

RE: stupid
By Uncle on 8/27/2012 2:09:49 AM , Rating: 1
I agree the USA is "cruel and unusual,".

RE: stupid
By NellyFromMA on 8/27/2012 7:58:11 AM , Rating: 3
There's nothing unusual about judge's being in lobbying pockets

eff that
By OS on 8/24/2012 10:11:47 PM , Rating: 5
i would go on welfare or flee the country.

f-ck that.

RE: eff that
By Jeffk464 on 8/24/2012 11:49:12 PM , Rating: 2
Best thing to do is go bankrupt. He no doubt has little in assets so might as well erase the debt. But yeah, a PHD in physics could probably have a great career in a lot of countries. Maybe he should choose one where corporations don't rule with impunity.

RE: eff that
By Jeffk464 on 8/24/2012 11:50:04 PM , Rating: 5
There have been record numbers of americans leaving the US for greener pastures, something you rarely used to see.

RE: eff that
By Samus on 8/25/2012 1:46:24 AM , Rating: 2
If "they" ever discover my music collection even Apple's net worth won't bail me out.

RE: eff that
By whitt107 on 8/25/2012 3:15:21 AM , Rating: 2
He should so download all of Gracenotes collection of 97 million songs, and he could owe 2.2 Trillion Dollars.

That's what I would do at least.

RE: eff that
By inperfectdarkness on 8/26/2012 9:31:40 AM , Rating: 3 then theoretically all we have to do is merge the RIAA with the US government, and then we can solve the debt crisis.

a balanced punishment
By senbassador on 8/25/2012 12:41:08 PM , Rating: 3
A typical parking ticket runs about $20 - $50. A typical speeding ticket runs between $100 and $250. Thats about how much the payment for stealing a single song, or a movie, respectively, should be. Anything beyond that is excessive.

RE: a balanced punishment
By Beenthere on 8/25/12, Rating: -1
RE: a balanced punishment
By Jeffk464 on 8/25/2012 2:18:07 PM , Rating: 4
The courts aren't going to prevent you from traveling do to a fine, thats absurd. The fine itself is absurd and the RIAA has zero chance of getting that money from him.

RE: a balanced punishment
By Silver2k7 on 8/26/2012 3:45:29 AM , Rating: 3
"BTW, in some countries like Sweden the fine for speeding is based on your income and has exceeded $1 Million dollars on occasion."

This sounds like an urban legend.
Swedens speeding fines have increased in the last few years.. but Norway is still more expensive to get a speeding ticket.

RE: a balanced punishment
By chromatix on 8/26/2012 10:23:28 AM , Rating: 2
No, it's apparently true. The driver was Swedish, and several Nordic countries operate a "day-fine" principle, but he got the ticket in Switzerland which also does so. Here's a sufficiently reputable source:

The fine looks enormous, but you have to remember that he was caught driving at about 180mph on the public road. In many other countries, that wouldn't so much get you a fine as an outright disqualification. And, judging by the car he was driving, he can actually afford a $1M fine - if nothing else, by selling the car!

The day-fine system is designed to match the punishment to the crime *and* the criminal. Somebody on the poverty line will be seriously affected by a relatively small fine, while "the 1%" have a tendency to laugh off relatively large fines, so fines are instead defined as a number of days of income. As a side benefit, there is no need to adjust the fines for inflation every few years.

RE: a balanced punishment
By Jeffk464 on 8/26/2012 4:28:50 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with fines being related to your income. What do you think a $200 fine means to Bill Gates?

RE: a balanced punishment
By Rukkian on 8/27/2012 10:15:14 AM , Rating: 1
This is not a bill to the IRS or any other government agency, they have no rights to stop you (at least not until a few more politicians get bribes, er contributions). It would take quite a bit of effort and time to even get wages garnished, let alone imprisoned. This is a civil matter, not criminal.

RE: a balanced punishment
By LRonaldHubbs on 8/28/2012 8:14:49 AM , Rating: 1
Yeah, it's based on income. The person who was fined 1M for speeding wasn't making 90K per year like this guy. Therefore that example is irrelevant.

RE: a balanced punishment
By BZDTemp on 8/27/2012 8:33:04 AM , Rating: 2
Please don't buy into the any of the PR lies they tell. It's not stealing it is copying and there is a huge difference.

That the guy would have gotten off a lot easier stealing 2-3 CD's than copying makes it even more absurd.

Don't call it the RIAA
By cladari on 8/25/2012 9:25:07 AM , Rating: 5
Calling this organization the RIAA plays directly into the record companies hands. The RIAA/MPAA is used to deflect the bad guy reputation away from where it really belongs, the movie studios and record companies.

The headline should read "Columbia records et all destroys a kids life over 30 songs". This puts the heat where it belongs and doesn't let them hide behind an organization that people may or may not relate directly back to them.

RE: Don't call it the RIAA
By Pneumothorax on 8/25/2012 10:02:50 AM , Rating: 5
QFT, a quick wiki lookup on the RIAA shows this list:

Cary Sherman - RIAA
Colin Finkelstein - EMI Recorded Music
Bill Hearn - EMI Christian Music Group
Deirdre McDonald - Sony Music Entertainment
Terry Hemmings - Provident Music Group/Sony Music Entertainment
Kevin Kelleher - Sony Music Entertainment
Thomas Hesse - Sony Music Entertainment
Julie Swidler - Sony Music Entertainment
Luke Wood - Interscope Records
Jeff Harleston - Universal Music Group
Zach Horowitz - Universal Music Group
Mel Lewinter - Universal Motown Republic Group
Craig Kallman - The Atlantic Group
Paul Robinson Warner Music Group
Bob Cavallo - Buena Vista Music
Glen Barros - Concord Music Group
Mike Curb - Curb Records
Michael Koch[disambiguation needed] - Entertainment One U.S.
Tom Silverman - Tommy Boy Entertainment
Steve Bartels - Island Records

so 96% of RIAA is actually the record companies. I wish the media would routinely highlight this fact!

RIAA, prease
By ipay on 8/26/2012 3:08:45 AM , Rating: 4
From TFA:

He personally received multiple warnings
from various sources – including his father in 2002, his college in 2003, and plaintiffs in 2005 – and he was warned that his activities could subject him to liability of up to $150,000 per infringement. Id. at 493-94. In spite of these warnings, he continued to download and distribute copyrighted materials; indeed, even after receiving Sony’s 2005 cease and desist letter, trial evidence shows that defendant continued his activities for two more years, until Sony filed this lawsuit against him.

This guy wasn't one of the thousands of gullible rubes who pirated by mistake. He received repeated notices that the RIAA was on to him, and he kept doing it. Sympathy for this guy is like having sympathy for 'poor Mr. Capone being harassed by the gubbamint over his late tax bill'.

I don't support the RIAA's tactics any more than anyone else, but clearly if the legal authorities are after you and they tell you so, then only an idiot continues to flaunt the law.

RE: RIAA, prease
By lagomorpha on 8/26/2012 8:25:33 AM , Rating: 2
Please, who hasn't gotten a DMCA notice at some point?

RE: RIAA, prease
By Joz on 8/26/2012 11:13:56 PM , Rating: 2
I have not.

RE: RIAA, prease
By MrPickins on 8/27/2012 10:23:07 AM , Rating: 2
Just because he is an idiot doesn't mean that he should have excessive fines levied against him.

Seriously, almost 3/4 of a million dollars for 30 songs? Should they really be allowed to ruin his life over this?

Where do I sign up for the protest!
By faster on 8/25/2012 10:53:22 AM , Rating: 2
It is cases like this that have the ability to capture the public's attention and spark the complacent citizen to action.

The record companies are out of control and motivated by greed.

The court system is out of touch with the common citizen and has become a tool of corporate population control. For whatever reason, the US courts have been granting more and more power to our corporations. From letting them start PAC's to control American political elections, to allowing them to fine an average citizen $675k for sharing a few songs on the internet, our courts are giving all control in our society over to the corporations.

Our congress wants to pass laws to have the American taxpayer pay for enforcement of whatever policies the corporations want.

The ability to share information over the internet is constantly being eroded. The US government already has all US network traffic monitored, now it also wants public companies like facebook to back doors in its systems to grant access to the greatest population monitoring platform ever devised. I always thought it ironic that if the government required you sign up for a facebook account, there would be widespread outrage, but just by making it available, people flock to it to record their personal information.

There are so many important things to protest about right now, but a shocking lack of protests. I need an app to sign up for social protests over important issues. Can’t someone invent that?

RE: Where do I sign up for the protest!
By senbassador on 8/25/2012 1:16:20 PM , Rating: 4
"The court system is out of touch with the common citizen and has become a tool of corporate population control. For whatever reason, the US courts have been granting more and more power to our corporations."

No, actually, the courts are doing their jobs just fine. They're only interpreting the laws that Congress passed. If anything, take it up with Congress and the Senate.

By MrPickins on 8/27/2012 10:32:17 AM , Rating: 2
The Supreme Court is doing just that:

I'd leave country
By Nik00117 on 8/25/2012 1:10:18 AM , Rating: 5
For $675,000 I'd take my ass overseas (Korea, China, somewhere) and find employment there.

I'd then renounce my US citizenship and tell the RIAA to go fuck themselves.

I'd ensure that on all my bank accounts their are no connections between myself in my current country and my self in America. (as in SSN numbers etc)

I actually know a guy in Korea like that, he got sued for a stupidly large amount of money, so he just said "Fuck yall" and left. He's now an English teacher in Korea teaching English and gets paid in cash. His debtor (who wants 1.5 mill from him) is pissed off but o well, no debtor prison in America.

Judge Zobel = retard
By kingmotley on 8/24/2012 11:01:58 PM , Rating: 2
The judges in the US are quickly showing just how retarded the legal system has become. Does anything else need to be said?

RE: Judge Zobel = retard
By rpsgc on 8/25/2012 8:14:44 AM , Rating: 2
The judges in the US are quickly showing just how retarded they THEMSELVES are . Does anything else need to be said?


By stm1185 on 8/24/2012 10:39:32 PM , Rating: 2
Spotify lets you pick what you want to play from millions of songs, all for just listening to an ad once in awhile. I don't think I will ever buy music again, nor pirate.

Run quick guys!
By bernardl on 8/25/2012 5:40:37 AM , Rating: 2
Don't worry, Democratic countries will accept US political refugees willing to run away from a country whose institutions have made such incredible non sense possible! :-)

By Vaz on 8/25/2012 8:58:57 AM , Rating: 2
This is messed up, they should charge him 10x the cost of each song and be done with it. Few people could really pay that crazy fine, it shouldn't even be allowed.

By KPOM1 on 8/25/2012 10:40:20 AM , Rating: 2
If it's willful misconduct, it might not be dischargeable in bankruptcy (a bankruptcy attorney could speak more to that). However, the record companies ought to settle for less. They have made their point, and have largely ended their aggressive campaign, which created a massive PR nightmare for them.

By mackx on 8/25/2012 1:32:20 PM , Rating: 2
leave the US? i mean debts in the US can't be enforced elsewhere. so if he lived in canada or somewhere else he'd be better off right? skipping out on the debt would mean he'd never be able to return though iirc

get revenge!
By boozee on 8/25/2012 7:57:28 PM , Rating: 2
isn't he a physicist? build some bombs and blow them up. the companies behind riaa and the house of the judges. while he is at it, get the law makers who pass the laws that allow this crap.

One more reason to ...
By IranTech on 8/26/2012 12:39:40 PM , Rating: 1
One more reason to sh.. on American music. Add to that all "cultural" products coming out of that place!

Not very bright for a Grad student
By Beenthere on 8/25/12, Rating: -1
By mackx on 8/25/2012 1:35:40 PM , Rating: 2
the RIAA works on behalf of the music labels right?

these ones? - Major Record Labels Forced to Pay $45M USD for Pirating Music

they should clean their own house first

Not very bright for a Grad student
By Beenthere on 8/25/12, Rating: -1
RE: Not very bright for a Grad student
By BifurcatedBoat on 8/25/2012 7:11:56 PM , Rating: 2
Best thing to do is to stop buying music. It's not necessary to listen to it, they don't have us over a barrel. Stop buying it and let those companies go out of business.

Likewise for Apple and another companies that abuse IP law, while they themselves copy and steal whatever they can from those who are less-able to attack them in court.

RE: Not very bright for a Grad student
By disgusted@thieves on 8/26/2012 9:06:34 AM , Rating: 1
Agree 100%.. If you don't like the policies, don't buy it, if you steal it you are a thief and can be punished as one.

By MrPickins on 8/27/2012 10:28:08 AM , Rating: 2
If he was being punished for stealing CDs containing a total of 30 songs, he would have likely received probation an a fine several orders of magnitude lower.

He is being punished as a commercial bootlegger. This is the whole problem...

By bigboxes on 8/26/2012 9:03:23 AM , Rating: 2
Tell us more, Gomer.

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