RIAA wins another guilty verdict

Update: The jury has now weighed in, finding college student Joel Tenenbaum guilty of willful copyright infringement and hitting him with a $675,000 fine, or $22,500 per song. Original story below.

A judge has decided that Joel Tenenbaum is guilty of copyright infringement, leaving the jury only to decide whether his transgression was willful and how much money he has to pay.

Judge Nancy Gertner made the decision after reviewing Tanenbaum’s testimony, in which he flat-out admitted to downloading and distributing 30 songs over the Internet, Ars Technica reports. Tenenbaum (pictured) faces a maximum penalty of $4.5 million.


This case, prosecuted by the Recording Industry Association of America, is the second of its kind to go to trial. Last month, Jammie Thomas was found guilty of willful copyright infringement and ordered to pay $1.92 million for sharing 24 songs. The cases are connected in that Tenenbaum is represented by Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson, while Thomas took legal counsel from Nesson’s former student, Kiwi Camara.

Both lawyers have taken unconventional stances towards copyright, which will appear in their legal strategies now or in the future. Camara, for instance, has said the RIAA should return all the money it’s collected as a result of suing illegal file sharers. Nesson tried to argue that Tenenbaum’s file sharing was fair use, a defense that was quickly thrown out.

It seems that Tenenbaum’s best shot at salvation is Nesson’s plan to argue the constitutionality of Copyright Act damage provisions. This is a matter that should be heard in court, because the idea of $150,000 in damages per song is ridiculous. The RIAA hasn’t yet been obligated to prove that an individual’s file sharing resulted in such steep losses for the music industry.

It’s sad that Tenenbaum has to be the vehicle for an argument on the Copyright Act, but it’s necessary that he is.