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?