Appeals court approves $675,000 fine for student who illegally downloaded 30 songs

joelThere’s no way to get around it: It kind of sucks to be Joel Tenenbaum.

In 2009, the former Boston University Ph.D student was ordered by a jury to pay damages amounting to $675,000, to be split between four major record labels, for illegally downloading and sharing 30 songs online as the result of a then-two year trial between Tenenbaum and the record labels. Now, after various attempts to explain that damages of $22,500 per song is a little extreme – not to mention, potentially out of his ability to pay – he has seemingly been ordered, once and for all, to pay up.

Tenenbaum was been told on Tuesday by the First Circuit Court of Appeals that the original damages amount should stand, bringing to an end a long-running legal campaign that has seen the penalty reduced by a factor of ten then restored, with the entire case denied by the Supreme Court just last month.

In his denied appeal, Tenenbaum tried to make the case that a more appropriate amount of penalty owed would be $450, the cost of the 30 albums where the songs he had illegally shared had originated from. It was always a difficult argument at best – after all, Tenenbaum didn’t just download the songs, he shared them afterwards. Putting a dollar value on the downloads in terms of their source albums opens up a potential argument that others theoretically benefited from his piracy and that the cost of their non-purchases be added on to his penalty.

The appeals court, of course, had none of it. “This argument asks us to disregard the deterrent effect of statutory damages, the inherent difficulty in proving damages in a copyright suit, and Sony’s evidence of the harm that it suffered from conduct such as Tenenbaum’s,” they responded.

Justifying the admittedly outsized penalty, the ruling explained that Tenenbaum “carried on his activities for years in spite of numerous warnings, he made thousands of songs available illegally, and he denied responsibility during discovery. Much of this behavior was exactly what Congress was trying to deter when it amended the Copyright Act. Therefore, we do not hesitate to conclude that an award of $22,500 per song, an amount representing 15 percent of the maximum award for willful violations and less than the maximum award for non-willful violations, comports with due process.”

This latest legal setback must surely be the final one for Tenenbaum, especially considering the fact that the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case leaves him without the option to appeal to a higher authority. At this point, he’ll simply have to find some way to raise the money necessary to pay the fines. You think he’ll hit up Kickstarter?

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