It seemed that the crusade begun by major record labels and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to sue individuals over illegal music downloads was waning, especially given the RIAA shifted its focus towards going after distributors like Megaupload and Limewire, but a news report from the US today serves as an ugly reminder of the fallout.
According to Spinner, The US Supreme Court has refused to reduce fines levelled at a Boston University student for damages of $US 675,000 after he illegally downloaded and shared thirty songs over the internet in 2003.
The verdict was handed down last Monday by the high court to Joel Tenenbaum, 29, who was successfully sued by the RIAA for illegally sharing music on peer-to-peer networks like KaZaa. The jury ordered that the maths and physics major was to pay damages of $US 675,000, or $US 22,500 for each song, fees that had been laid out in a 2009 court case concerning Tenenbaum.
The hefty penalty was reinstated at the request of major labels, including the RIAA-represented Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Brothers Records Inc., even after a federal judge called it “unconstitutionally excessive.”
The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear his plea is the final straw for Tenenbaum, who has spent nearly a decade – since we was first fined in 2003 – appealing his case up through the courts only to be rejected at every turn.
His story began back in 2003, when the then-20-year old offered a partial payment of $US 500 against a $US 3,500 demand for illegally downloading and sharing music. Four years later, in August 2007, Tenenbaum was sued for copyright infringement and damages, and though he offered the record labels the original nominal fee of $US 5,250, they declined.
Following several court appeals, in 2010 a District Court Judge managed to drop a zero from Tenenbaum’s fines, reducing them to $US 67,500 following a petition started by Tenenbaum and his lawyer through a website called Joel Fights Back. An online hub designed to rally public support claiming “Joel Tenanbaum is just like you” and pitching the case as a David Vs Goliath scenario between “one defendant” against the “full might of [RIAA's] lobbying and litigation power.”
The appeal was struck out a year later however, with Tenanbaum and his attorneys filing for a rehearing in the First Court of Appeals, only to be denied. They then appealed to have the case heard in the Supreme Court – resulting in today’s news that the exorbitant fees will not be reduced.
Australia could start seeing very similar horror stories after ARIA’s appeal for government assistance in cracking down on music piracy here down under. But here’s hoping we don’t….
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