U.S. Federal Court: $675,000 Fine to Grad Student Pirate's 30 Songs is "Fair"
August 24, 2012 8:08 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
[PDF] with fellow Judge Nancy Gertner who
[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
[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.
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
[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
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 [
], 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 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.)
U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts via Beckerman Legal
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