RIAA wins $675,000 in Joel Tenenbaum P2P lawsuit

The RIAA has won a $675,000 fine in Joel Tenenbaum's MP3 P2P copyright lawsuit. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers debate this latest copyright curve-ball, wondering if $22,500 per song is excessive.

Richi Jennings is your humble blogwatcher, who selected these bloggy morsels for your enjoyment. Not to mention summer lists...

Ernesto van der Sar pseudonymously reports:

Joel Tenenbaum has lost his trial against the RIAA and was ordered to pay $22,500 for each of the 30 songs he shared via Kazaa ... based on “willful infringement.” ... Tenenbaum, who pleaded guilty to downloading and sharing files earlier this week, will be left paying off the $675,000 to the music labels for the rest of his life.


This is the second win in little over a month for the RIAA. In June, Jammie Thomas-Rasset lost her retrial against the RIAA and was ordered to pay $1.92 million for the 24 songs she shared via Kazaa. The RIAA [said] ... that the ‘damages’ will not go to any of the artists, but to more anti-piracy campaigns.

Ben Sheffner also summarizes:

The trial was an almost entirely one-sided affair. Plaintiffs built their case with forensic evidence collected by MediaSentry, which showed that he was sharing over 800 songs from his computer on August 10, 2004. ... And when he took the stand on Thursday, Tenenbaum admitted it all, including the fact that he had “lied” in his written discovery responses and at his first deposition in September 2008.


Tenenbaum’s admissions were so clear-cut, and so damning, that Judge Gertner—who had recruited ... Harvard Law School professor Charles Nesson ... to represent the formerly lawyer-less 25-year-old—took the basic issue of infringement away from the jury, determining that no reasonable jury could find for Tenenbaum on that issue. The jury of five men and five women, all white and all from the Boston suburbs, were left only to determine the issue of willfulness and damages.

Sue Walsh calls it "ridiculous":

The RIAA’s sue-happy stance ... probably won’t help them make any friends. They continue to fight against digital music, which has long since replaced the CD as the music distribution system of choice, just as CDs replaced cassettes and cassettes replaced LPs. The huge success of iTunes and the growing popularity of streaming music and internet radio have proven digital music is here to say.

Unfortunately the RIAA seems determined to destroy it, between their lawsuits against file sharers and they insistence on charging internet radio stations such high per song royalties that many of them face going out of business altogether.

Pete Cashmore wonders if $22,500 is excessive:

If the award stands, Tenenbaum will be filing for bankruptcy ... Given that most tracks sell for $0.99 in iTunes, a 100x multiple would put the fine at $99 per song. A 1000x multiple would lead to a fine of $990. You might say that it’s comparable to being fined $100,000 for stealing a comic book, except that in this case it would be more like photocopying the comic and leaving the original on the shelf.


There’s no doubt that Tenenbaum broke the law, and appears to have continued to infringe copyright for years after receiving warnings and even after being sued. His lawyer’s tactics, including the posting to his blog of audio recordings from the court, are said to have “infuriated the plaintiffs”.

Bryan McAffee has a suggestion:

I have a valid defense for Tenenbaum or anyone who is trying to fight a file-sharing case, it’s called the Constitution. Specifically the 8th Amendment (somewhat of a forgotten amendment) states “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”. The key phrase here is “nor excessive fines imposed”.


Even if you want to argue he stole valuable intellectual property, fine, but what is the value of that which he stole? 30 songs on iTunes will run you about $30 bucks, yet he has been fined $675,000 dollars for stealing $30 bucks worth of songs. One of the lessons here is, if you are going to steal songs, it’s better to go to Wal-mart and just steal the CD, the repercussions will be far less severe.

Ray Beckerman urges caution:

I received an email which said ... A grassroots campaign was started earlier today by individuals who aspire to help raise money in order for Joel not to have to file for bankruptcy. The idea is that if every file-sharer donated $.99 or the price of a few albums, a resounding message could be sent to the RIAA from the court of public opinion.


This email seems to be saying that they are trying to raise money with which to pay the RIAA. ... It would be insane for people who are opposed to the RIAA's litigation campaign to take up a collection for the RIAA. Anyone who wants to help fight the RIAA should be contributing money to those who are fighting the RIAA. ... The only "message" that would be sent by contributing money to pay to the RIAA is that the RIAA is right to be doing what it is doing.

Joel Tenenbaum (for it is he) agrees:

This is my verdict.  I ask no one to help me.  And I ask for no one to cover what I signed up for. That being said, people ... felt compelled to donate. ... So many people saw this as their fight too.


[But] we don’t want the RIAA to be paid when I can’t afford to do it, and this money could be more valuable elsewhere. From the money raised already, I would like to reimburse my legal team for the money they’ve spent out of their own pockets, and we’ll have more court costs yet, so we will use the donations to keep us in court as far as we need to go. If money remains beyond that, I am open to a discussion ... as to what to do with the rest of it.

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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