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Joel Tenenbaum, charged with downloading 30 songs from Kazaa, fined $675,000

A federal judge's decision in the case—which began in 2007— may be final, as the Supreme Court has refused to hear Tenenbaum's appeal.


Kevin Collier


Posted on Aug 24, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 12:12 pm CDT

Joel Tenenbaum, who became a scapegoat for a music industry that wants to curb online piracy, has run out of options, and will have to pay $675,000 for downloading 30 songs, a federal court ruled Thursday.

Tenenbaum, 28, has seen his fines bounce wildly depending on which court tries him. In 2010, a judge reduced his fine to $67,500, but Massachusetts Federal Judge Rya W. Zobel reset it to $675,000 Thursday. Since he’s been denied a hearing by the Supreme Court, it appears his options here are limited. Tenenbaum did not respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.

Though Tenenbaum was only charged with downloading and seeding 30 songs using the peer-to-peer filesharing service Kazaa, that was plenty for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to bring suit. They charged him in 2007, and the two sides have been engaged in legal wranglings since.

In her ruling, Judge Zobel declared that the fine, $22,500 per song, did not qualify as “grossly excessive, inordinate, shocking to the conscience of the court, or so high that it would be a denial of justice to permit it to stand.” In fact, that rate is well below the maximum possible fine for willful infringement, $150,000 per song.

Zobel also noted that the jury should consider “the defendant’s purpose and intent,” “the profit
that the defendant reaped,” “the expense that the defendant saved,” “the revenue lost by the plaintiff as a result of the infringement,” and, importantly, “the need to deter this defendant  and other potential infringers.”

While the RIAA used to employ an official strategy of sporadically suing individuals who pirated songs, it formally abandoned that strategy in late 2008. It refused to drop pending cases, though.

In her ruling, Zobel wrote that though Tenenbaum’s only charged for those 30 songs, “There was further evidence about the scope and scale of Tenenbaum’s infringement activities.” His “illegal conduct lasted for at least eight years,” she said, and he “distributed thousands of copyrighted works.” It was a long-established pattern of willful infringement, she said:

He personally received multiple warnings from various sources – including his father in 2002, his college in 2003, and plaintiffs in 2005 – and he was warned that his activities could subject him to liability of up to $150,000 per infringement  In spite of these warnings, he continued to download and distribute copyrighted materials; indeed, even after receiving Sony’s 2005 cease and desist letter, trial evidence shows that defendant continued his activities for two more years, until Sony filed this lawsuit against him.

Though Tenenbaum couldn’t be reached for comment, he gave a rare interview to Techdirt in 2010, which may shed light on his current opinion:

“I’m not saying that file-sharing is right. I’m not saying that it’s wrong either. What I’m saying is that file-sharing is. What I’m fighting in court is that $675,000 — and even $67,500 — for 30 songs is unjust. Turns out that you can NOT use a civil lawsuit to ‘deter’ other individuals: it’s an abuse of court.”

Photo via Joel Tenenbaum

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*First Published: Aug 24, 2012, 7:29 pm CDT