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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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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.

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