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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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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?


"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov














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