RIAA sues Joel Tenenbaum for $4.5m in P2P trial

Four record labels and the RIAA are suing a student, Joel Tenenbaum, for $4,500,000, alleging illegal file sharing. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers contemplate the second such case to reach trial, courtesy of Arista, Sony, UMG, and Warner.

Richi Jennings is your humble blogwatcher, who selected these bloggy morsels for your enjoyment. Not to mention support should never be necessary...

Jonathan Saltzman passes the cruet:

Four major record labels who sued a Boston University graduate student for illegally downloading and sharing music online plan to begin making their case [Tuesday] before a federal jury. ... Lawyers for the record labels and for Joel Tenenbaum, 25, were ... delayed until this morning. It took longer than expected to pick a jury in US District Court, in part because several prospective jurors were disqualified after conceding they had downloaded music without paying for it.


The only other defendant to go to trial was Jammie Thomas-Rasset of Minnesota, who faced similar allegations of file sharing. Last month, a federal jury in Minnesota sided with the record labels and awarded $80,000 per song, or a total of $1.92 million.

Ben Sheffner calls Monday "a full, slogging day of jury selection":

The defense [was] reeling from Boston federal judge Nancy Gertner's last-minute decision to remove Tenenbaum's proposed fair use defense. ... Tenenbaum's hopes of letting the jury determine whether his acts of alleged infringement constituted fair use under the Copyright Act were dashed by an order e-mailed to the parties this morning at 1:37 am.


Tenenbaum has repeatedly admitted, including under oath at his two days of deposition, that he used KaZaA to download and share songs, and the record labels have mountains of evidence to confirm what Tenenbaum admits.

Richard Koman isn't a barbariam:

Tenenbaum has admitted to downloading the songs, over an extended period of time. The judge simply couldn’t conceive of how his circumstances could possibly fall within fair use. And she pointed out - it’s not that hard to imagine facts that would present a good fair use defense.


Perhaps the Harvard team was more interested in making a broad alternative restatement of copyright law than in parsing Joel’s admissions in a way that would have allowed them to preserve some remnant of fair use. Maybe that’s what happens when academics waltz into the courtroom?

Joel Tenenbaum tells us how it feels:

When I contemplate ... how it feels to be sued for $4.5m ... I have to remind myself what I'm being charged with. Investment fraud? Robbing a casino? A cyber-attack against the federal government? No. I shared music. And refused to cave.


For the past four years, they've been threatening me, making demands for trial, deposing my parents, sisters, friends, and myself twice – the first time for nine hours, the second for seven. ... No matter how many people I explain this to, the reaction is always the same: dumbfounded surprise and visceral indignance, both of which are a result of the amazing secrecy the ... RIAA has operated under.

J.B. Nicholson-Owens explains why people are polarized about this:

Because they sometimes see the needless legal suffering and hypocrisy brought by well-funded copyright maximalists and they don't want those maximalists defining the contours of copyright law alone.


The RIAA is not to be trusted in court. Their history includes ... the 2003 threat against Penn State's Prof. Usher who, with his team of researchers, innocently recorded a song in celebration of their new telescope. How did they get caught in the RIAA's all-too-blind dragnet? Apparently they dared to store an MP3 file containing the strings "usher" and ".mp3" in the filename on a publicly-accessible FTP server and nobody at RIAA thought to listen to the file before launching into litigation threats.

And Darkness404 has another angle:

Its not the fact that its against the law its the fact that ... these people are convicted for -insane- damages. Ok, how much is a song worth? About $.99 right? But to the RIAA they can sue for -hundreds- and -thousands- for a single song. So what do you think would happen if I stole a CD from Wal-Mart and they found out about it? They would probably charge me a few hundred dollars, perhaps ban me from the store, etc. they wouldn't sue me for many thousand dollars. Wait, but here is the thing, Wal-Mart -bought- the CD wholesale, Wal-Mart paid money for it, for digital copies they don't cost a cent to make so there are no lost profits.

The law states that penalties should not be outrageous, I think anything more than $20-$30 a song is outrageous. The RIAA did not lose much of anything whenever a song is "pirated".

But wasabii wants Due Process:

Look dudes. It's against the law to infringe copyrighted material. It's against the law to aid somebody else breaking the law. File sharing therefore is Against The Law. It is the Proper Decision for these people to be convicted. Anything else would make me think the judges were asleep at the wheel.

If you dislike that so much, don't focus on whether somebody wins or loses these cases. It is Proper that they lose. It would be Wrong if the law bent so much to allow what is clearly outlawed. Instead, seek to CHANGE the law. Donate to lobbyists. Become lobbyists yourself. Civil disobedience is fine, but don't expect to get off the hook for doing it until you change the law.

So what's your take?

Get involved: leave a comment.

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 24 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him as @richi on Twitter or richij on FriendFeed, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email: itblogwatch@richij.com.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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