Target of RIAA lawsuit says music piracy case has been an ordeal

College student Joel Tenenbaum claims trade group wanted to make an example of him

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After initial attempts to resolve the issue failed, Tenenbaum said he offered the RIAA $500 to settle the claims, arguing that as a student, he couldn't afford to pay more. That offer was quickly rejected by the RIAA, and Tenenbaum didn't hear anything more from the trade group for nearly two years. "I had no idea why, and I didn't want to know why," he said. "I didn't know if they had decided that we weren't worth it, or if the case had fallen through the cracks."

Those questions were finally answered in August 2007, in the form of a stack of legal documents in which the music companies formally accused Tenenbaum of copyright infringement. He filed a motion in the Boston court seeking to dismiss the RIAA's civil suit. Then, after some "back and forth" between the two sides, Tenenbaum said, he agreed to pay the $5,250 that the RIAA had demanded as restitution for the alleged violations.

But according to Tenebaum, the RIAA refused to accept the settlement offer and instead increased its payment demand, asking him for $12,000. "At that point, I said no, because it was no longer a settlement," he said. Tenenbaum contends that the RIAA seems to be focused more on trying to make an example of him than on seeking restitution for any actual damages caused by the alleged piracy.

The counterclaim filed by Nesson includes similar assertions. Apart from asking for the case against Tenenbaum to be dismissed, the filing seeks damages from the RIAA for what Nesson described as an abuse of process. He accused the music industry of conducting a campaign of intimidation and of seeking absurdly excessive financial restitution for alleged copyright violations.

The approach that the RIAA has been taking "creates grotesquely excessive punitive use of civil process," Nesson said this week. "The RIAA actually claims that actual damage is irrelevant, which we claim is unconstitutional."

Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the RIAA, dismissed the claims that the lawsuits filed against Tenenbaum and others are meant to serve as examples. "This case is no different from all of our other cases," she said. "In fact, Mr. Tenenbaum essentially admitted to illegal activities, and we believe that he should be held accountable under the law."

In an interview before the RIAA's decision to stop filing lawsuits came to light, Duckworth said statistics show that music piracy has cost the music industry about $3 billion over the past seven years and has also resulted in more than $2 billion in lost wages for American workers. Much of that piracy was tied to illegal downloading by college students, she noted.

"A lot of jobs depend on the legitimate sale of music," Duckworth said. "Regardless of how someone feels about our lawsuits, there are real consequences [as a result of piracy]."

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