Over the past several months we have twice written about Joel Tenenbaum (most recently, here), a college student who was sued by Sony BMG Music for using file-sharing software to download and share 30 songs in violation of their copyrights.
For the benefit of our growing number of new readers, we shall briefly recapitulate the history of this matter. Joel at first denied infringement, blaming the files found on his computer on a multitude of individuals who allegedly had access thereto, including various houseguests, his sister and unidentified burglars. “The dog ate my homework” never worked as an excuse in school, and at some point Joel apparently realized that “burglars downloaded music onto my computer” wasn’t going to work in court.
He, therefore, changed his tack, admitting to the downloading of which he was accused, admitting that he continued to do so after being put on notice of the wrongful nature of his acts by Sony, admitting that he continued to do so DURING THE LITIGATION, and admitting that he had attempted to alter or destroy his computer files to hide evidence of his acts. He contended that file-sharing of copyrighted music is simply “not morally wrong.” His attorney seemingly supported this view. A few months prior to trial, the attorney personally uploaded seven copyrighted songs to a publicly accessible internet website with a sign that read, “Destroy Capitalism – Support Piracy!”
At any rate, the jury found Joel’s admitted copyright infringement to be willful and assessed statutory damages of $22,500 per song – for the mathematically challenged, that comes to $675K. Joel filed a motion seeking, among other things, a new trial or remittitur (law biz lingo for “please, please, PLEASE reduce the damages award”). The Court granted his motion, in part, holding that the jury’s award violated the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, and reducing the damages to $2,250 per song – a total of $67,500. Joel appealed anyway. Sony appealed. And, to round things out, the United States appealed (seeking to defend the constitutionality of the copyright statute).
We now come to Sony’s appeal brief. Although this brief runs to 127 pages, the meat of it is contained in the six pages entitled, “The District Court’s Analysis And Conclusions Are Hopelessly Flawed.” Supporting arguments are set forth in a section entitled, “The District Court’s Characterization of Tenenbaum’s Conduct Bears No Relation to Reality,” wherein Sony contends that “the court invoked the ‘everybody’s doing it’ defense as a basis for minimizing the harm Tenenbaum inflicted on [Sony].” Indeed, “[a]lthough the court stated that among file-sharers, ‘Tenenbaum is one of the most blameworthy,’ it dismissed his individual conduct and the jury’s finding of willfulness to find more generally that file-sharing is a ‘comparatively venial offense’ that ‘is fairly low on the totem pole of reprehensible conduct’ … the court pointed out that Tenenbaum’s conduct caused economic, not physical harm, did not evince indifference to health or safety of others, and did not target the financially vulnerable.”
Sony, quite obviously, takes the view that file-sharing is a HORRIBLE wrong, citing the Department of Justice which concluded that peer-to-peer networks are “one of the greatest emerging threats to intellectual property ownership.” According to Sony, “the ever-multiplying infringement caused when a song is illegally shared results in injuries ranging from lost revenues to diminution of copyright value to a diminished capability to identify and promote new artists to layoffs within the industry … Tenenbaum fundamentally undermined the value of those copyrights, the profitability of [Sony’s] business, and the entire statutorily established copyright scheme.”
Of course, Tenenbaum has yet to file his responsive brief, which we can hardly wait to read, especially if it is drafted by the attorney who wishes to destroy capitalism. Nevertheless, we will confess to a complete lack of sympathy for this jerk, who admitted that he was warned both by the university AND HIS FATHER, to discontinue his file-sharing before it got him into trouble.
We’ll keep you, the reader, apprised of further developments in this matter.
THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED: Listen to your parents.
He might be a jerk, however, would a reasonable person award $22,500 per song when the actual damages are closer to 99 cents per song?
Even the reduced damage award, is still 2500 percent greater than the actual damages.
A reasonable person would not expect Sony to have suffered such a significant loss in the face of sharing 30 99-cent songs.
Joel does, indeed, seem like quite a tool. However, trying to enforce a $675k judgment against a college student for P2P file sharing is ridiculous, and one of the many ill-advised anti-piracy tactics used by the major labels. In cases like this one, wouldn't contributory infringement (or inducement) suits against the P2P networks make more sense? If the major record labels had limited their anti-piracy actions to suing enablers like P2P networks and other "deep pockets" -- instead of suing college kids -- then most likely they wouldn't have taken as big a hit as they did in both PR and profit. After all, $675k is a drop in the bucket for a corporate defendant, and Sony BMG likely wouldn't have had much trouble collecting its winnings on the judgment from a defendant that actually had money.