When it comes to illegally downloading music on the internet, it looks as though it doesn't matter if you're a retiree or a struggling student: the Recording Industry Association of America is prepared to fine you, even if it takes a full-on juried court case to do it.
Following a week before judge and jury, 25-year-old Boston University doctoral student Joel Tenenbaum has been found guilty of breaking U.S. copyright law, having admitted to illegally sharing 30 songs online. His penalty: a fine of $22,500 U.S. per song, for a grand total of $675,000 U.S. ($726,300 CDN), to be distributed between the record labels whose copyright Tenenbaum infringed.
Following the verdict Friday (July 31), the RIAA released a statement indicating their approval of the penalty Tenenbaum received: "We appreciate that Mr. Tenenbaum finally acknowledged that artists and music companies deserve to be paid for their work. From the beginning, that's what this case has been all about. We only wish he had done so sooner rather than lie about his illegal behaviour."
The RIAA began a campaign to seek compensation for songs that were downloaded illegally from the P2P sharing service Kazaa in 2003, contacting between 30,000 to 40,000 people and serving them with fines, Tenenbaum among them. Though he was asked to pay $5,250 in compensation for seven songs he had been sharing illegally over the Kazaa network, Tenenbaum contested the fine, claiming that the law under which he was being prosecuted was unconstitutional. Shortly before the trial, however, the RIAA raised the number of songs in question from seven to 30.
Tenenbaum is the second individual tried and found guilty of breaking U.S. copyright law by means of downloading music illegally; numerous other cases having been settled out of court. His verdict, though, pales in comparison to the $1.92 million U.S. penalty handed to Minnesota mother-of-four Jammie Thomas-Rasset earlier this year after she shared 24 songs on Kazaa.
While Tenenbaum has mixed feelings about the verdict, he says the results of the trial are at least slightly positive: "[It] sends a message of 'We considered your side with some legitimacy... $4.5 million [the penalty he had anticipated receiving] would have been, 'We don't buy it at all.'"
Tenenbaum has stated that he will file for bankruptcy if the verdict stands, although he and his lawyers are currently planning an appeal.