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Court confirms $675,000 fine for sharing 30 songs

Tenenbaum is toast in haggle with big media

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Joel Tenenbaum has lost his request for a mistrial in his long-running case against the music industry over sharing music and now faces financial ruin.

The Massachusetts court declined his request for a mistrial and confirmed he will have to pay $675,000 in fines after being found guilty of sharing 30 songs on the Kazaa network. That's $22,500 per track.

In Friday's ruling, US District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel told Tenenbaum that the award against him was not excessive and he should be thankful he didn’t have to pay more.

"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," the ruling states. "Considering all of the aforementioned evidence, the jury’s damage award was not so excessive as to merit remittitur.”

The aforementioned evidence on the willful or non-willful nature of the office refers to Tenenbaum's testimony. After first denying the charges, he trying to blame the offense on his sister (which could make for fairly awkward family get-together), a house guest or a possible burglar. Tenenbaum later admitted to sharing the music from 1999 to 2007, and could potentially have faced a bill for over $4.5m for the 30 songs he was found guilty over.

Tenenbaum was 16 when he first got a warning letter from Sony's legal team, which initially demanded $5,250 for downloading seven songs from Napster and Kazaa. His counter-offer of $500 was rejected and the case first went to court in 2007.

Stepping up to his defense came Harvard law professor Charles Nesson, who promised to "put the record industry on trial," and recruited a team of eager young students to help out. After Tenenbaum was found guilty in 2009 they appealed the case, eventually getting the damages cut to $67,500 after the original verdict was ruled "unconstitutionally excessive."

Flushed with this success, they appealed again for the Supreme Court to hear the case. If this was a bad movie script, the plucky team would have saved the day in a dramatic court-room showdown. Instead the Supremes turned the request down, and with Friday's verdict confirming the full damages Tenenbaum now has little chance of avoiding financial ruin.

One could argue that Tenenbaum was spectacularly unlucky. There isn’t enough money in the world to pay the RIAA's members if all the people who had been file sharing at the time had to pay $22,500 per track, and similar fees for stolen apps and games. As has been pointed out, the RIAA has a tenuous grasp on economic realities.

But Tenenbaum made his own luck, to a degree. His conduct in the case was hardly smart and his legal team's strategy of doubling down has also been highly criticized, not least by some at El Reg, for failing to work on winnable portions of the case.

Tenenbaum is now left with few options. He can appeal the verdict, which looks likely to fail, or presumably declare bankruptcy since he's unlikely to have that amount of money stuffed under a mattress. Meanwhile musicians still aren’t getting paid, the media industry seems no closer to finding a workable solution to piracy, and warning letters from lawyers are becoming ever more common. ®

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