Is $2,250 Per Song the New Standard for Online Copyright Infringement?
Article Courtesy of: PC Magazine
By David Murphy
Fancy a $675,000 penalty for illegally downloading 30 songs off the Internet? That was the kind of music Boston University graduate student Joel Tenenbaum was ready to face following a July 2009 verdict that found him liable for sharing 30 copyright-protected songs on the popular Kazaa P2P network.
The damage–$22,500 per song–has since been lowered by U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner, who cut out roughly 90 percent of the original penalty to a more “manageable” $67,500, or $2,250 per pirated track. We say that as we do, for the move still puts Tenenbaum in an untenable financial position.
“A $67,500 pricetag for 30 songs is still a bill Joel cannot afford,” wrote Debbie Rosenbaum on the site Joel Fights Back. “Even Judge Gertner added, ‘Significantly, this amount is more than I might have awarded in my independent judgment.'”
The Recording Industry Association of America, plaintiffs in the case, remains less than thrilled by the decision. According to a statement released by the RIAA, the group plans to contest the decision on the grounds that it invalidates the carefully construed arguments–reached by a jury–as to the reparations owed.
“The judge appropriately recognized the egregious conduct of the defendant, including lying to the court about his behavior, but then erroneously dismisses the profound economic and artistic harm caused when hundreds of songs are illegally distributed for free to millions of strangers on file-sharing networks,” the organization said.
Interestingly, Gertner’s reduction in fees exactly matches a similar reduction performed by Michael Davis, chief judge for the U.S. district court for the District of Minnestora, in the not-quite-so-different case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset versus the RIAA. Thomas-Rasset, found liable for infringing 24 different copyrights for sharing music on Kazaa, was facing a $1.92 million penalty herself.
Finding the penalty to be too far into, “the realm of gross injustice,” said Davis, the judge instead reduced the total damages to $54,000. That’s $2,250 per song as well, or three times the minimum amount provided for by U.S. copyright law.
That doesn’t mean that the RIAA has accepted the ruling, however. In fact, the group elected to pursue its rights to a third trial against Thomas-Rasset and Davis, in response, ordered both parties to figure it all out via third-party arbitration. That didn’t quite work, and the third case against Thomas-Rasset will kick off on October 4 of this year.
Though it might appear that judges are looking to set a payment precedent in cases of P2P-based copyright infringement of music, the RIAA has made it clear that it’s equally willing to go to the mat to preserve what it feels are fair and adequate restitutions for its member labels.
That said, these two major court cases are, indeed, the only ones that have actually gone to trial based on the RIAA’s lawsuit threats–most accused settle out of court to an amount far less than the $2,250-per-song “standard” that’s emerging.