Yesterday marked the end of Joel Tenenbaum's court battle with the RIAA over 31 songs he illegally distributed on Kazaa. A federal judge denied his latest appeal, and now he's on the hook for $675,000. That's nearly $22,000 per song, plus some wholesale character assassination that has now been sealed with judge's rubber stamp.
U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel declined Tenenbaum's last appeal, saying the jury decided correctly last year when it found that Tenenbaum, now 28 but much younger when the lawsuits began, had willfully stolen the songs and that he knew better. But rather than uphold the decision against him and move on, Zobel took the opportunity to moralize:
In short, there was ample evidence of willfulness and the need for deterrence based on Tenenbaum's blatant contempt of warnings and apparent disregard for the consequences of his actions. In spite of the overwhelming
evidence from which the jury could conclude that Tenenbaum's activities were willful, the award of $22,500 per infringement not only was at the low end of the range – only 15% of the statutory maximum – for willful infringement, but was below the statutory maximum for non-willful infringement.
To translate the lawspeak, the judge basically says that Tenenabaum was very naughty and should've known better, and it was awfully nice of the jury to be so lenient. The number the jury decided on was below the maximum allowed if he had committed the crime unwittingly. They could have hit Tenenbaum with a $4.65 million penalty.
This is more or less the end of the line for Tenenbaum; the Supreme Court declined to hear the case before, and he's running out of options. In theory he could still get some relief, but it's increasingly likely that the $675,000 fine will stand. We asked the RIAA for comment, and they pointed us to pages 5 and 6 of the decision, which "speaks for itself." These are the two pages that include Zobel's pontificating above. It's a forensic analysis of Tenebaum's character rather than an analysis that cuts to the facts of the case. We also reached out to Tenenbaum's lawyer Charlie Nesson to ask what further recourse their case might have in the courts, and we'll update when we hear back.
Regardless of what the maximum allowable penalty for a crime is, anything more than a slap on the wrist for Tenenbaum's actions would have been hugely disproportionate to the crime. As it stands, the RIAA has certainly made an example by ruining one twenty-something's life financially and dragging his name through the mud. Although it's maybe not the one they intended. [CNET]