Print 56 comment(s) - last by Flunk.. on Aug 31 at 3:04 PM

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

"This is from the It's a science website." -- Rush Limbaugh

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