Q&A: Tenenbaum says he faces bankruptcy after $675K piracy verdict
Why didn't you settle when you had a chance? I did try to settle when they sent the first letter to me saying, 'We have reasonable belief you have infringed our copyright. Call this 1.800 number to settle.' I called the number up and we went back and forth. I think they wanted $3,000. I sent them a money order for $500 which came back with a letter essentially saying, 'Call back when you really want to talk.' I said I couldn't afford more. Then after not hearing from them for a couple of years, this formal complaint arrives at my door in the form of a stack of pages -- maybe 50 pages -- thick, written in legal-ease. So I came to court and talked to the plaintiffs and I offered them $5,250 at one point and they came back to me and doubled that. I mean I didn't have that. And even if I did, it just seemed wrong to just submit to that without any formal proof, without going to court.
I mean we have in America this idealistic view of our judicial system that it will see both sides of a story. So I got to trial and now I have this huge verdict against me.
Are you surprised that such a large verdict was awarded by a jury of your peers? I guess what you are asking is how can a jury of 10 ordinary folks sit down and nonchalantly say, 'Yeah, this kid owes $675,000.' There is a famous experiment (the Milgram experiment) in which they have volunteers come in and apparently someone who looks like some kind of an authority figure tells the volunteers to turn a knob. They are told this knob will inflict pain on a subject. The majority of people had no problem turning that knob even if they saw the results. The take home message on that was people aren't terribly conflicted about carrying out what they believe is their proper job when they have been instructed by someone in a position of authority what it is. So, here came this judge, she sat them down and said this law applies here and for each song you must apply $750 to $150,000 [in fines]. If you are a juror, you think doing anything other than that is beyond your purview.
You have had a lot of support. But there are many who think you deserve to pay for stealing music. This is an issue that is being debated and I am glad that an open honest debate can be sparked out of this. I am not saying file sharing is always good or always beneficial. I am not saying that file sharing is wrong or always detrimental. I am just saying file sharing is, and always will be. And I think that it's necessary, given this RIAA campaign, for us a society to step back, look at the issue and see it with a certain sense of reality and reasonableness. A $700,000 fine is neither.
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