Judge refuses to change $675,000 fine in music downloading case

By on August 24, 2012, 7:30 AM

US District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel has upheld a previous ruling against Joel Tenenbaum for illegally downloading music from the Internet. Tenenbaum was sued in 2007 and ultimately found guilty of downloading 31 songs over the course of two years while a student at Boston University.

The jury at the time awarded the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) a judgment of $675,000. He argued that the damages were unconstitutional and excessive. The judge overseeing the trial agreed and damages were reduced to a much more manageable $67,500 but after appeals from both sides, the original figure was then reinstated.

In the latest development, the judge denied Tenenbaum’s request for a new trial by jury, noting that the previous jury had done a thorough job of evaluating all of the evidence in the case and arriving at the $675,000 judgment. Judge Zobel further noted that the penalty was on the low end given the offense of willful infringement. Even if it had been non-willful infringement, it still would have fallen below the limit and as a result, wasn’t deemed excessive.

Charles Nesson, Tenenbaum’s lawyer and a Harvard Law School professor wasn’t immediately available for comment but did indicate an appeal would be forthcoming. In fact, an appeal had reportedly already been filed but he was required to go through the correct process of asking Zobel for another trial before the appeal could move forward.




User Comments: 45

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r8bwp said:

$20,000 per song seems fair...NOT!.....compared to other crimes and there sentences!

MilwaukeeMike said:

I'm new to this planet, can someone explain to me how $67,500 is a 'managable' fine for a college student? Honestly though it doesn't really matter... 60,000, 600,000 or 6 million, it's going to be a declaration of bankruptcy anyway. He should have his credit high enough to buy a car around 2025.

demonlord721 said:

Honestly if 675,000 is a reasonable fine for downloading songs from the Internet then the judge should be thrown in the looney bin for lets say.... 56,000 years for being insane. Until there is a global standard that makes identifying legal sources of downloaded music ironclad and easy.There is absolutely no way they should be made to pay more than the retail cost of the songs they downloaded at the online rate.

Jbucko said:

All the copyright infringement laws are quite ridiculous, It is not surprising to see this. I don't think making an example of this guys is going to do anything.

Tygerstrike said:

Unfortunately the fine InThis case is a two parter. One is the costs of the songs themselves, the other part is punitive damages. That's the cost of downloading copyrighted material and going to trial. It isn't truly fair but that's the cost of gettIng caught. Instead of just pirating, ppl should spend that energy coming up with a way to do what they wish w/o it being illegal. If you wish a Law to change you have to do something to change it. Just pirating and ranting isn't going to change the law. Get your head out of the sand and do something to effect change

UnknownSky said:

Still seems though that they are fining one person, but trying to fine every person that is pirating at the moment. Bringing down all out Hell on .01 percent of the problem will never be seen as justice.

Guest said:

Seriously.....even assuming a full price of $20(Price of the CD more or less) times 31 which I think would be more than fair reimbursement, they really expect him to pay $670,000+.........Here's what's gonna happen, 1 week after he's exhausted all his option's and the judgment Is final he's simply going to file bankruptcy and walk away and laugh about It with his buddies.

Guest said:

In my mind; forcing him to buy the album from each song 5 times over is fitting punishment.

Excluding legal fees of course...

I wish I was a judge....

Guest said:

That's crazy, someone could steal the Christmas presents from 1,000 needy families and the fine wouldn't be 1/10th of what that is. But 31 songs, wtf is the world coming to.

Zoltan Head said:

That's crazy, someone could steal the Christmas presents from 1,000 needy families and the fine wouldn't be 1/10th of what that is. But 31 songs, wtf is the world coming to.

Read Tygerstrike above, explained it clearly.

Jbucko said:

That's crazy, someone could steal the Christmas presents from 1,000 needy families and the fine wouldn't be 1/10th of what that is. But 31 songs, wtf is the world coming to.

Read Tygerstrike above, explained it clearly.

It explains but does not justify.

anguis said:

Pirating should be treated like parking tickets. If you happen to get a ticket, you pay the small, reasonable fine. If you don't pay it, you face a larger fine (instead of your car being towed, maybe shut off your Internet until you pay the fine). None of this $675,000 along with court costs and wasted time for all parties involved. Small, simple, effective is the way to go.

Tygerstrike said:

@Jbucko

Its simple the courts dont NEED to justify punative damages. Thats the courts ruling for whatever reason. The Judge/Jury has stated that the price the individual must pay for damages, and thats their opinion. Collecting on it will be different story. This is what that person must pay for his piracy. That is the costs involved. He got caught, went to trial, more then likely thinking the jury would side with him, and now has to pay the othersides Legal fees. Which isnt included in the Punative Damages ruling. So 10 to 1 this guy is prolly in debt something like a million five hundered thousand, simply because he didnt want to pay for his entertainment.

ETF Soldier ETF Soldier said:

He's a student? THAT MEANS HE HAS NO INCOME! how is $67,500 more managable? It's extremely excessive for only 31 songs!

Guest said:

I don't understand the mentality of the majority here. This person knew that this activity was illegal. This person took part in the illegal activity. This person now has to pay the consequences set forth by the law. Why all the whining?

VitalyT VitalyT said:

We are all one download short of a disgrace like that...

ikesmasher said:

I don't understand the mentality of the majority here. This person knew that this activity was illegal. This person took part in the illegal activity. This person now has to pay the consequences set forth by the law. Why all the whining?

the consequences make him confiscate for the inconvenience he caused, which is not worth nearly 700 THOUSAND dollars. anyone who thinks this is a fair penalty is mental.

wastedkill said:

I don't understand the mentality of the majority here. This person knew that this activity was illegal. This person took part in the illegal activity. This person now has to pay the consequences set forth by the law. Why all the whining?

Us sane people don't understand your mentality its like saying 10,000 years in jail is "Justice" its not its like me suing the government for $999,999,999,999,999 just because they broke my human rights law and I am guessing you "Guest" see that as justice if I win which I should according to you ye the amount might seem a bit high but its just "meh its fine"

foreverzero89 said:

@Jbucko

Its simple the courts dont NEED to justify punative damages. Thats the courts ruling for whatever reason. The Judge/Jury has stated that the price the individual must pay for damages, and thats their opinion. Collecting on it will be different story. This is what that person must pay for his piracy. That is the costs involved. He got caught, went to trial, more then likely thinking the jury would side with him, and now has to pay the othersides Legal fees. Which isnt included in the Punative Damages ruling. So 10 to 1 this guy is prolly in debt something like a million five hundered thousand, simply because he didnt want to pay for his entertainment.

it falls under cruel and unusual punishment. so , yes they have to justify it.

Tygerstrike said:

Guys it is "Justice". It was theft. No matter how anyone tries to justify it. He knew it was illegal and did it anyways. Im sure many ppl here have downloaded copyrighted material. THAT IS THE COST THIS PERSON HAS TO PAY BECAUSE HE WENT TO TRIAL!!!! Now we all know he downloaded a lot more then 31 songs. Im guessing they settled on 31 because thats what the lawyers for the prosicution can prove without a shadow of a doubt. The damages awarded were prolly for the full amount he intially download and the jury wanted to make an example of him for the benefit of society. You are talking about 12 ppl who have a legal obligation to judge the facts of the case and award damages accordingly. The price tag is high but there are exstenuating circumstances that we as the general public are not privvy to as we were not on the jury or in the courtroom. More then likely the plantiffs in this case will settle for a lower amount and spin the situation to their advantage and use it to put out PS announcments about piracy.

Guest said:

My firm opinion is that only sellers of stolen goods, only dealers of drugs and only owners of pirate sites should be punished. Punishing buyers, users, downloaders is unethical, immoral and in my view is against human rights. Internet users pay for their Internet access, they do not steal it, and they are allowed to click on anything, open any site and download anything on Internet, provided they do not hack into private data - that's like breaking an entry into a private house. Now, PUBLISHING on Internet is a different matter - people who own sites, make files available for download or publish lies in newspapers - those are a different group, they should be responsible for the content they are filling the Internet with. Because using Internet is literally receiving information. And in my view, it is against the law, be that moral law, civil law, human rights, whatever, - it is illegal to punish people for receiving information.

foreverzero89 said:

Guys it is "Justice". It was theft. No matter how anyone tries to justify it. He knew it was illegal and did it anyways. Im sure many ppl here have downloaded copyrighted material. THAT IS THE COST THIS PERSON HAS TO PAY BECAUSE HE WENT TO TRIAL!!!! Now we all know he downloaded a lot more then 31 songs. Im guessing they settled on 31 because thats what the lawyers for the prosicution can prove without a shadow of a doubt. The damages awarded were prolly for the full amount he intially download and the jury wanted to make an example of him for the benefit of society. You are talking about 12 ppl who have a legal obligation to judge the facts of the case and award damages accordingly. The price tag is high but there are exstenuating circumstances that we as the general public are not privvy to as we were not on the jury or in the courtroom. More then likely the plantiffs in this case will settle for a lower amount and spin the situation to their advantage and use it to put out PS announcments about piracy.

not justice, vengeance. when GROSSLY over-punishing like that, justice would be, say it's 99 cents a song, paying 5 dollars per for the original cost of the song, plus a fee covering any perceived loss and then maybe a flat fee for pirating in the first place. that would be more like justice.

Tygerstrike said:

@Forever

See the point is that individual had the opportunity to pay for his music. Then it would have been a "Fair" price. Howeve they chose to pirate instead of pay the fair price. So now the jury makes him pay the price THEY believe he should pay. Also understand that Punative Damages isnt about "Fair" for the defendant. Its about awarding the victim an amount that given the facts of the case, that the jury believes is fair. Your not far off calling it vengance, however the individual HAD the opportunity to play by the rules and CHOSE to not. Thats the cost of "Doing the crime". I know for a fact that the prosecutors offered the plantiff a deal for a lower amount. He also CHOSE to go to trial thinking the jury would side with him. They didnt obviously.

Guest said:

He didn't "receive" information. He willing stole it.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Nice to know someone can be fined $670,000 for stealing two CD's. Seriously, if they are going to set fines they should compare to real world damages. This amount is way over the top.

Camikazi said:

He's a student? THAT MEANS HE HAS NO INCOME! how is $67,500 more managable? It's extremely excessive for only 31 songs!

You missed a 0 it's $675,000.

Zecias said:

@Forever

See the point is that individual had the opportunity to pay for his music. Then it would have been a "Fair" price. Howeve they chose to pirate instead of pay the fair price. So now the jury makes him pay the price THEY believe he should pay. Also understand that Punative Damages isnt about "Fair" for the defendant. Its about awarding the victim an amount that given the facts of the case, that the jury believes is fair. Your not far off calling it vengance, however the individual HAD the opportunity to play by the rules and CHOSE to not. Thats the cost of "Doing the crime". I know for a fact that the prosecutors offered the plantiff a deal for a lower amount. He also CHOSE to go to trial thinking the jury would side with him. They didnt obviously.

Regardless, the fine should not be anywhere near that high.

Gross Vehicular Homicide, which is usually a DUI with gross negligence, is a felony that has an assumptive bail of $50,000. It is penal code violation 191.5

Voluntary manslaughter is a felony and a violation of penal code 192a. The assumptive bail is $60,000.

Involuntary manslaughter is a violation of penal code 192b and has an assumptive bail of $25,000.

Manslaughter caused by driving a vehicle with gross negligence (but not a DUI) is a violation of penal code 192c1 and has an assumptive bail of $50,000.

Vehicular homicide, which is a DUI without gross negligence, has an assumptive bail of $50,000 and is a violation of penal code 192c3.

Manslaughter with a vessel is violation of penal code 1922.5 and can be either a felony or a misdemeanor. Assumptive bail is $50,000.

People who endanger lives and kill people can get off by paying around $50k. You download 31 songs and you pay $700k. Of course stealing is much worse than endangering the lives(or the killing) of others... right? This is just another example of corporate bullies abusing their power.

Think about it this way, $700k can destroy a person's life. For a college student, his credit will be destroyed so he probably won't be able to finish their education. Then he'll spend years paying off his debt(and that's only if he manages to get a decent paying job). I don't know how bankruptcy works, but I'm sure he'll spend a good portion of his life paying off debt. He was stupid and he should have payed the ridiculous fine, but doesn't deserve having to pay off a mountain of debt. He downloaded 31 songs. Imagine if you stole a candy bar and had to pay $20k.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

You missed a 0 it's $675,000.

You missed how the fine was dropped to 67K to be more manageable and then raised again to the original fine.

Tygerstrike said:

@Zecias

Your are partially correct. Every instance you have quoted is a CRIMINAL case. This is a CIVIL case. Same courtroom, different section. There are major differences between criminal and civil. Youre talking bail. This is a civil litigation. Each and every instance you have pointed out WILL have two parts. The first being criminal the second being civil. I need point no farther then OJ Simpson. He was aquitted on criminal charges but still had to face civil litigation for wrongful death.

Matric Matric said:

Guys it is "Justice". It was theft. No matter how anyone tries to justify it. He knew it was illegal and did it anyways. Im sure many ppl here have downloaded copyrighted material. THAT IS THE COST THIS PERSON HAS TO PAY BECAUSE HE WENT TO TRIAL!!!! Now we all know he downloaded a lot more then 31 songs. Im guessing they settled on 31 because thats what the lawyers for the prosicution can prove without a shadow of a doubt. The damages awarded were prolly for the full amount he intially download and the jury wanted to make an example of him for the benefit of society. You are talking about 12 ppl who have a legal obligation to judge the facts of the case and award damages accordingly. The price tag is high but there are exstenuating circumstances that we as the general public are not privvy to as we were not on the jury or in the courtroom. More then likely the plantiffs in this case will settle for a lower amount and spin the situation to their advantage and use it to put out PS announcments about piracy.

I agree with some of the things you say. I just wonder if the theft was 31 CD's from a retail store if he would have been punished to the tune of $675,000. In some countries he could have his hands cut off or issued the death penalty. Sure he may well have known what he was doing was illegal, but the punishment should always fit the crime. Ruining a young man's financial future with possible bankruptcy over stealing a couple of songs. That doesn't sound like justice to me, more like being made a public example of.

Tygerstrike said:

@Matric

Once again the amount this person has to pay is because it is Punative Damages. 31 songs is prolly all they could prove w/o a shadow of a doubt. Yes it is a ton of cash. But the gentleman had the opportunity to play by the rules and did not. 675k as a fine is a lot better then 10years in jail. As I remember the copyright laws for movies its 25k plus 5years in jail. So realistically this guy is getting off light.

Now just because this person has a judgement against him for 675k, doesnt mean the ppl will get that money. Most times ppl just file for bankruptcy and clear that debt. He doesnt have to pay it, but it is on his permanent record. His job prospects will definatly know about his piracy and ruling when they do a background check. So even if he doesnt have to pay 675k, he will prolly be flipping burgers till he dies.

Brad Rodgers Brad Rodgers said:

Being a Canadian I sometimes wonder about our laws and the people who make them, I figure they must have been looked in a small NON-VENTILATED room with a huge open tub of model glue. That could be the only way that some of these laws are conceived then passed. Then I read a story such as this one, and I realize that things here aren't so bad after all. The judge in this case is so far out into the Stratosphere with his/her ruling that what should happen is the judge needs to be removed from the position of power over people and have a serious reality check done, some time in the asylum would also be HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Just FREAKING CRAZY!!!

Guest said:

People who endanger lives and kill people can get off by paying around $50k.

You are trying to compare a bail with a fine, different items altogether (and people who pay bail haven't "got off"!)

Guest said:

okay, now, let us do the math.. $675000 for 31 songs, means each song is priced roughly $21800.. whhattt the f*ck??

then it argued that the damages were unconstitutional and excessive, so, the judge overseeing the trial agreed and damages were reduced to a much more manageable like.. $67500 that means $2180 per song.. (still) whaatt the fu*k??

now, if we buy all the song from a shop, let say each cd contain about 15 songs, so, in total you must buy 2 CDs with cost about $100...

where's the justice? what happen to the system?

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

where's the justice? what happen to the system?
What system, there never has been a system that worked for everyone.

Guest said:

if you were saying:

"guys, this is 'justice'"

and still resist "THAT IS THE COST THIS PERSON HAS TO PAY BECAUSE HE WENT TO TRIAL!"

and then fined $675000 for downloading 31 songs, later the fine was reduced-to-a-more-manageable as $67500.

..well, where is the 'justice'? all I can see only the 'law' with 'severe punishment beyond all reason'.

What we want is we (hopefully) can reach the 'justice' through the law and system as instrument.. but the law and system itself don't guarantee the 'justice' itself..

Camikazi said:

You missed how the fine was dropped to 67K to be more manageable and then raised again to the original fine.

So in other words the fine is 675,000 and he still missed a zero

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

So in other words the fine is 675,000 and he still missed a zero

I don't have time for your games, the fine was dropped to 67,500 making it more manageable and then overturned and set back to 675,000. So no he didn't miss a 0, you misinterpreted his comment.

Carleton Wu Carleton Wu said:

If downloading songs illegally is like stealing, the penalty should be no greater than if you stole 2 CDs from your local music store.

Zoltan Head said:

If downloading songs illegally is like stealing, the penalty should be no greater than if you stole 2 CDs from your local music store.

Yeah, but it isn't simply stealing, it's infringement of intellectual property, inter alia, so the parallels are limited.

Tygerstrike said:

Once again ppl, it is Punative Damages. Its so high because he went to trial. Juries tend to award higher Punative Damages. Note: Punative. Look it up!!! They basically give these high fines as a way to ensure that the individual will NEVER do it again.

@Carleton

The person in question had the chance to pay for their music long before ever going to trial. Im sure they were offered a smaller fine but they chose to go to trial.

Guest said:

Does anyone one know how sick this actually is? How sick the justice system in America is these days? It's this sick - the guy could have raped many small children and gotten off for way less - but no, he downloaded a few songs. Yes this is the infamous American Justice system folks.

Shamefully sickening. That "judge" (likely a paid actor) needs his clocked cleaned.

lotuszhang said:

Guys it is "Justice". It was theft. No matter how anyone tries to justify it. He knew it was illegal and did it anyways. Im sure many ppl here have downloaded copyrighted material. THAT IS THE COST THIS PERSON HAS TO PAY BECAUSE HE WENT TO TRIAL!!!! Now we all know he downloaded a lot more then 31 songs. Im guessing they settled on 31 because thats what the lawyers for the prosicution can prove without a shadow of a doubt. The damages awarded were prolly for the full amount he intially download and the jury wanted to make an example of him for the benefit of society. You are talking about 12 ppl who have a legal obligation to judge the facts of the case and award damages accordingly. The price tag is high but there are exstenuating circumstances that we as the general public are not privvy to as we were not on the jury or in the courtroom. More then likely the plantiffs in this case will settle for a lower amount and spin the situation to their advantage and use it to put out PS announcments about piracy.

Unless there is a set standard throughout the country or the world about which sites are legal and which are not, and unless legal purchase is far more convenient than file-sharing, no one can guarantee that he/she does not infringe copyright. Look at the mass of file-sharing sites---who can tell which of them are legal? Do we have to abandon downloading altogether, and go back to the ancient way of buying CDs to listen to music? The reason why most people choose illicit file-sharing, I think, is not that they don't want to pay the artists, but that they simply do not see how/where they can get a single song legally without having to buy a whole CD/DVD. If record companies can make legal downloading as easy as possible, and give a reasonal price for each piece of music, no one would prefer coarse files on those free-download sites....

Tygerstrike said:

@lotu

There is a standard. Its called the copyright protection act. Simple put is that unless you have purchased the rights to use/view a product, you have no rights and it is theft. Plain and simple. Some ppl MAY be able to get away with the I only wanted the one song. But in general its has been claimed by those that pirate, they pirate because they are poor or because they wont get caught. Regardless, the gentleman in question is only being charged with 31 songs. We all know that he download a lot more then 31 songs. The gentleman had the opportunity to find legal ways to pay for his music, he chose not to. He is a victim of his own choices.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

If this guy shot the judge, I think I would be sympathetic.

It would be different if someone had actually stolen $200K worth of material. How many songs would you have to pirate to get close to $200K worth of downloads?

A $675K fine is ridiculous for these charges.

.

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