File Sharing Student Fined $675K
Joel Tenenbaum is a grad student at Boston University who was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America for activities on file sharing sites. Tenenbaum was found guilty and has been ordered to pay damages to RIAA in the amount of $675,000. That's $22,500 for each of the 30 songs that he illegally downloaded and distributed via peer to peer networks. Is Tenenbaum a marytr for Fair Use, or a common criminal? Here's the full story...
The Joel Tenenbaum File Sharing Case
The verdict in Tenenbaum's case is based on the overwhelming evidence that indicated that Tenenbaum "willfully" broke copyright laws. In fact, Tenenbaum freely admits that he downloaded hundreds of songs using Kazaa, Limewire and other P2P services. However, while there was plenty of evidence that proved Tenenbaum infringed on the rights of the copyright holders of the music that he downloaded, his legal counsel still argues that the court ignored "fair use" claims and that his client was victimized by excessive damages.
Over the last seven years, music companies have filed copyright infringement suits against 30,000 individuals because of illegal Internet downloads of their music. Of those accused, nearly every one has settled out of court. The average settlement ranged between $3,000 and $12,000, however, only two of those cases have gone to trial, resulting in price tags of $675,000 and $1.2 million for the illegal downloads.
Tenenbaum Case Information
The Tenenbaum case started back in 2003 when the young man was sent a threatening letter that told him to cease and desist illegally downloading music from RIAA. This letter offered Tenenbaum the opportunity to settle the infringement case for the amount of $3,500, which he turned down. However, he did talk with the RIAA's payment center and offered to settle the situation for $500. He sent the company a money order for this amount, but this offer was rejected.
Tenenbaum didn't hear anything from the RIAA for nearly four years, in which time he continued to download and distribute RIAA copyrighted materials online via various P2P networks. In 2007 he was sent a summons to appear in court to face infringement charges. Unlike most of the 30,000 other people accused of infringement, Tenenbaum decided to fight the charges and submitted his answer to the court. In his answer he filed a counterclaim that stated that the excessive damages that he was being charged with were unconstitutional and that the company was abusing their federal power to prosecute him. When Tenenbaum appeared in court he offered to settle the case for $5,000, but this offer was denied by RIAA. They countered with a settlement offer of $10,500. This time Tenenbaum declined the offer. At this point the case went to trial.
At the end of July 2009, a jury ruled in favor of RIAA. Their ruling was based on an overwhelming amount of evidence that showed that Tenenbaum not only downloaded but also distributed hundreds of illegal downloads via P2P networks. They also took into consideration the numerous warnings that Tenenbaum received that told him he was breaking the law and that he would be prosecuted for his actions. Oh, and there was also Tenenbaum's glib confession. They concluded that this showed "willful" intention to infringe on RIAA's copyrights. Their verdict ordered Tenenbaum to pay $22,500 for each of the 30 confirmed illegally downloaded songs, which amounted to an award to RIAA of $675,000.
It Could Have Been Better
Going into the final trial, Tenenbaum's counsel was confident that he could get his client off with a much better verdict. This confidence was based on a case that was built on the "Fair Use" argument. This argument is based on the legal distinction between infringement and fair use. The Fair Use law upheld by the U.S. Copyright Office states that there are certain situations that someone could use copyrighted materials without gaining permission.
To be classified as a fair use incident as opposed to an infringement incident several factors are considered including: the purpose of the unauthorized use of the copyrighted material, the percentage of the copyrighted material that was used, what type of material was used and the impact on the market value of the material caused by the unauthorized use. Unfortunately for Tenenbaum the judge presiding over his trial ruled that "fair use" was not an allowable argument in this case.
It Could Have Been Worse
While the verdict for an award of $675,000 seems excessive the final payout could have been much worse. According to the Digital Theft Deterrence Act willful infringement of copyrighted materials could have a per incident price tag of $150,000. This means that Tenenbaum could have been charged well over $1 million for his indiscretions.
But it seems that Tenenbaum has little to lose. Tenenbaum and a legal team that's defending him for free (see photo above) are planning to fight the court's decision. And Tenenbaum says if the verdict stands, he will simply file for bankruptcy to avoid paying the fine. See more from his angle at Joel Fights Back.
Was the Case Fair?
There is a big debate going on right now as to whether this type of case is fair or unfair. There are solid arguments on both sides. On the side of the artists who create the music, they obviously deserve to be paid for their work, and the laws regarding copyright infringement are clear.
However, the other side claims that music is too expensive, that file sharing doesn't really hurt anyone, and the damages that are being asked for seem excessive. So who is right in these cases?
What's your position? Post your comments below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 3 Aug 2009
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- File Sharing Student Fined $675K (Posted: 3 Aug 2009)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved