$675,000 music piracy fee stands, as Supreme Court passes on case


Last week we reported that the Supreme Court of the United States had been asked to take up the case of Joel Tenenbaum, who owes Sony BMG Music Entertainment a thunderous $675,000 in damages for uploading 30 songs to a bundle of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks when he was a student at Boston University. And now we’ve found out that, well, that’s just not gonna happen.

Today, SCOTUS denied (pdf) Tenenbaum’s “write of certiorani,” which means that his request to appeal previous court decisions before the Court was turned down. SCOTUS supplied no reason for the denial.

Tenenbaum’s failure comes after nearly 10 years of fighting against the $675,000 fine. In the original lawsuit, brought forth by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on behalf of a number of labels, the jury had set the price of Tenebaum’s piracy at $22,500 for each song — a fairly modest price, considering the Copyright Act allows for damages to range from $750 all the way up to $150,000.

An appellate court judge later hacked Tenenbaum’s fine down to just $67,500, or $2,250 for each of the 30 uploaded songs, deciding that the Copyright Act’s allowance of such high fines were “unconstitutionally excessive.” Then, last year, another court reinstated the original fine.

The Obama administration had argued against U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner’s decision to reduce Tenebaum’s fine, saying that she had gone too far in questioning the constitutionality of U.S. copyright law. Reducing the maximum $150,000 fee allowed by the Copyright Act would have nullified it’s intended purpose, the administration argued, saying that such a high cost was necessary to deter people from pirating music and movies.

As Wired reports, the RIAA has consistently argued that judges do not have the right to reduce copyright infringement damages. Had the Supreme Court taken up Tenebaum’s request for an appeal, we may have found out whether or not that was true. Now, not so much.

The RIAA has sued more than 12,000 people for illegally sharing music. Only two of those have ever gone to trial, with the rest settled out of court. However, the RIAA  has recently shifted its anti-piracy tactics. Rather than sue everybody who uploads or downloads a song, the RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have begun to work with Internet service providers to develop a system that they hope will deter illegal file sharing by threatening to disrupt users Internet access and bandwidth speeds. That plan, commonly known as “six strikes,” was originally set to launch by this July, but has since been pushed back indefinitely due to lack of consensus among interested parties.

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