Is A $675,000 Fine For Music Piracy Over The Line?

A case involving a former Boston University student’s illegal music downloading has received the heavy hand of one U.S. District Court judge this month. Joel Tenenbaum, who illegally downloaded 31 songs from the now-defunct file sharing service Kazaa, will now owe  $675,000— that’s $22,500 per song– to labels including Sony BMG, Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Arista, and UMG.  The decision follows behind a separate lawsuit in June, in which one woman was ordered to pay $1.92 million for downloading 24 songs.

Tenenbaum’s case began in 2005. After the original verdict of a $675,000 piracy fine was reached, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner stepped in with a decision that the fine was “unconstitutionally excessive” (you don’t say), but an appeals court later overturned her decision.

Fast forward to earlier this summer when the case returned to U.S. District Court after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Tenenbaum’s appeal on constitutional grounds, and now U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel’s decision. She argues that Tenenbaum received “multiple warnings” including letters from Sony about file sharing.

Here’s the thing: Thousands of artists are due royalties from labels and music streaming services alike. Downloading is wrong. Yet I cannot see the reason in punishing an individual with no criminal record save a handful of bad decisions with a $675,000 fine for illegally downloading songs, while someone like Ben Roethlisberger, in comparison, is only forced to pay $440,000 in damages for alleged rape.

To pretend that this is not a grossly unconstitutional move on the part of the U.S. District Courts is ludicrous. Violent offenders post bail for less money than this one person will pay for downloading 31 songs. Illegal downloading is without a doubt an issue that continues to necessitate thoughtful and intelligent problem-solving, but not by judges who seem to think the constitutional right afforded to all Americans that “excessive fines ought not to be imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted…” does not include imparting a fine well over half a million dollars to a former college student who downloaded what amounts to around two hours of music.

More and more, it seems “By the people, For the people” applies only to those with white collars and $90 million to spend on lobbying efforts and wining and dining U.S. Senators.  One thing is for certain: I don’t understand America anymore.

Do you agree with the judge’s decision to uphold the $675,000 fine? Is $22,500 per song an excessive penalty for music piracy?

16 thoughts on “Is A $675,000 Fine For Music Piracy Over The Line?

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  1. $25,000 per song is definitely an excessive
    amount for a fine, especially for the piracy of music. Just like many others
    have mentioned above, the amount of royalties that are being paid to the
    artistes are probably just a tiny fraction of that to begin with. It has always
    been a moneymaking business amongst the record labels and the artistes
    themselves do not receive much profits from the sales of their music. Having
    such extravagant fines will not deter people from downloading music and as long
    as such files continue to be uploaded by others and a demand for it, there will
    always be a market for downloading music illegally. Most people don’t even
    agree with the idea of purchasing music as a means to support the artistes due
    to the low amount of revenue that artistes receive from these sales. Nowadays,
    most artistes earn their profits from selling concert tickets and merchandise.
    Hence with music piracy and record labels profiting from music sales, do you
    think that album sales would even be relevant in the near future? Most artistes
    would consider themselves lucky if they manage to sell even a couple of hundred
    thousand copies of their album.

  2. The judge who approved this is also off his rocker. He believes this number is justified because according to the labels, if Tenenbaum had licensed and distributed the music himself the costs would have been huge.

    So apparently $675,000 is recompense for an imaginary licensing and distribution loss on the part of the labels.

  3. It would be nice if there was balance. I can’t believe how extreme everything is one way or the other. It’s like there are zero protections for 99% of music out there but then these random cases go over the top. How about a $500 fine and they apply it to 200,000 ppl to get the word out there. But the truth is filing a claim is costly and time consuming so they pick one case and try to make an example (which doesn’t work) – forgetting he is a person with a life and should receive fair treatment as well.

  4. Lets say that Joel suddenly stands up and £675,000 falls out of his ass… could happen. So he pays off the fine and everyone moves on with their lives – You think the musicians from whom he “stole” music will ever see a penny of that ass money? Nope.

    The money itself is craftily ‘re-invested’ in anti-piracy measures, which in actual reality means it is pumped back to the record labels to spend how the flippin hell they like. (I know flippin hell is a weird phrase, I’m trying to swear less)

    The fact is file-sharing and so called ‘piracy’ is beneficial for artists, it provides a platform for the distribution of their music, one which is infinitely more effective and popular than anything the industry provides. Long gone are the days of spending hours in a record store discovering new albums and artists.

    File-sharing, digital media, streaming – these are the new ways of getting your music heard. Of the 31 artists Joel may have heard, he may have discovered 6 new bands he likes – and paid $20 to see them play live. Let me tell you, the musicians themselves would have thanked Joel for this as they get brick-loads more money from a live gig ticket. (between 2-7% royalty per album sold, compared to 40-60% of the ticket face value).

    Cases like this one are simply the industry spitting out its dummy, trying to defend an aged business model. I think its despicable that hard working Joels all over the world now feel threatened for sharing and sampling music online. Joel is a scapegoat, I hope he gets this ridiculous case overturned. Good luck to him.

  5. Just wondering, if he had stolen two CD’s like let’s say some compilation CD’s containing those same songs and got caught, what do you think he would of had to pay, if anything?

  6. PMvstheWorld|

    Damn that’s insane, why not just the $31-$40 that the songs are probably worth in that format?

  7. Hahaha, nah, I’m glad you kept reading. I can see how you thought I was going in another direction though.

  8. nice, thanks kevin

  9. what the…. YOU’VE GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!?? absolutely ridiculous. just checked, and apparently dude’s got a blog – where you can read up on the latest. it’s looking pretty hopeful that his wallet wont get utterly SKROOD by these crazy people.

  10. ugh

  11. JohnRHealey|

    It’s ridiculous that this is still happening in 2012 given it’s in an environment where a lot of artists have accepted piracy and done their best to change along with the new methods of consumption. Major record labels are a decade behind, and really need to accept the fact that trying to make an example of someone who downloaded 31 songs isn’t going deter people from downloading illegally or spur them to buy music legally. It didn’t work when Napster was around, it still won’t work now.

  12. I was almost afraid to keep reading this comment, but I’m glad to see you agree. It is a sensational comparison to make, but the contrast in damage totals really says so much about our society and its priorities.

  13. I agree with Jheri. They just want a scapegoat, but in reality, it’s not going to stop anyone.

  14. I think the comparison between a fine on a high-profile rape case being lower than the fine for downloading 31 mp3s illegally says exactly how disgusting this is. It’s a damn shame to see a few people being dragged through the mud for the expense of millions of online pirates.

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