Chalk Up Another Victory For The RIAA
Earlier this summer, a federal jury ordered Minnesota resident Jammie Thomas-Rasset must pay $1.92 million in damages to the labels for willfully violating copyrights by distributing songs via peer-to-peer files sharing networks.
The second case reached a verdict on July 31 when a federal jury ordered Boston University grad student Joel Tenenbaum, of Providence, R.I., to pay the major labels $675,000 for infringing upon the copyrights of 30 songs, which works out to $22,500 per song.
The lawsuit was one of the last ones filed accusing individual P2P users of infringing on music recording copyrights. The RIAA announced late last year it was discontinuing its litigation efforts against P2P users so it could concentrate on working with Internet service providers to deter music piracy.
For court watchers, the Tenenbaum trial promised to be a must-see, with Harvard Law School professor Charles Nesson heading up the defense. Nesson had been critical of the RIAA’s lawsuit policy against individual P2P users, leading many to expect a little courtroom drama featuring record label representatives squirming under the laser-like focus of Nesson’s cross-examination questions.
Instead, Nesson spent the first day of the trial trying to rearrange the courtroom furniture, claiming the traditional layout where defense and plaintiff tables face the judge was not a good “rhetorical space.” What’s more, when he wasn’t arguing in favor of moving the furniture, he was questioning jurors about their attitudes toward marijuana.
Although U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner ordered him to flush the pot questions, she did compromise on the furniture and allowed him to move the defense table so it faced the jury box.
Then the trial got under way with Tenenbaum admitting to downloading and sharing songs since 1999 when he discovered Shawn Fanning’s Napster. When Tenenbaum took the stand he was unapologetic and freely admitted to downloading and swapping hundreds of songs from 1999 to 2007, according to the Boston Globe.
Furthermore, Tenenbaum also admitted to lying in sworn statements in which he falsely blamed others, including members of his family, as having had access to his computer. So he was hardly the image of the innocent music fan falsely accused of music piracy.
So, what was the point? He admitted to downloading and sharing songs, and he admitted to lying in sworn statements. So why did he even bother with a trial? Why didn’t he just settle with the labels?
Apparently he did try to settle. At least, that’s what Tenenbaum claims. Although the judge ordered each side to refrain from describing pre-trial settlement negotiations while in court, Tenenbaum did testify he wanted to settle, saying he offered the labels $3,000 but the record companies wanted $4,000 instead.
Which, when you think of it, hardly sounds like a legitimate settlement negotiation. In other P2P infringement cases, the labels have named the settlement figure, not the accused.
What’s more, RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth, said Tenenbaum didn’t tell the complete story, and that at one point during the described settlement negotiations tried to demand the labels pay him, according to the Globe.
At one time Nesson was planning on mounting a defense where he would claim Tenenbaum’s file-sharing ways were protected by fair use. However, the judge would not allow it and barred Nesson from pursuing that line of defense.
All trials eventually come to that moment when the defense attorney looks into jurors’ eyes and tells them his client is innocent. In Nesson’s closing argument, the law professor asked jurors to award the least amount of damages possible under the law, which would have worked out to $22,500, or $750 per song, the bare minimum amount of damages that can be awarded to plaintiffs under copyright law.
Instead, Tenenbaum is now looking at a $675,000 judgment against him, an amount so high he says he’ll file for bankruptcy if the decision stands. Nesson says his client will appeal the decision.
Click here for the Boston Globe article.