Are 30 Songs Really Worth $675,000? The Justice System Thinks So

    August 24, 2012
    Zach Walton
    Comments are off for this post.

We brought you the story of Joel Tenenbaum back in May. He was facing massive statutory damages at the hands of the RIAA for sharing 30 songs via the file sharing service, Kazaa. Unfortunately, he was denied an appeal with the Supreme Court which means that his previous sentence stands.

The previous sentence sees Tenenbaum having to pay the RIAA a total of $675,000. That comes out to a little below $22,000 per song. The songs themselves are obviously not worth that much, but statutory damages are never about the worth of a product. It’s meant to be a message sent to those who would also pirate music.

Those same statutory damages were why Tenenbaum tried to appeal to the Supreme Court in the first place. It’s ridiculous to think that the law in this land would award that much money for simply sharing music over file sharing. Regardless of whether or not you think it’s a crime, the amount awarded was simply too ridiculous.

US District Court Judge Rya Zobel obviously doesn’t think that way. In fact, he thinks that the jury’s award was maybe a little too lenient. Here’s what he had to say:

“In spite of the overwhelming evidence from which the jury could conclude that Tenenbaum’s activities were willful, the award of $22,500 per infringement not only was at the low end of the range – only 15% of the statutory maximum – for willful infringement, but was below the statutory maximum for non-willful infringement. Considering all of the aforementioned evidence, the jury’s damage award was not so excessive as to merit remittitur.”

Zobel also says that the $22,000 per song is not “obviously unreasonable.” It seems that the judge and the jury in this case both bought the RIAA’s exaggerated claims of losing oh so much money whenever a song is shared via P2P networks. As it turns out, the RIAA isn’t losing money on piracy, but rather legal procedures trying to combat piracy.

For now, Tenenbaum is stuck with a massive $675,000 fine that’s now set in stone. Despite not even being 30 yet, he’s pretty much ruined for life. It’s a case of a man who refused to settle during the RIAA file sharing witch hunt and lost. At least we can rest easy knowing that the RIAA finally learned their lesson about suing their customers.

You can read the judge’s final thought below:

Sony BMG v Tenenbaum Order August 23 2012

[h/t: Torrent Freak]

  • http://www.guitar4free.com Simon

    The message is don’t copy music! It’s tough i know but there are so many broke musicians and producers who put there heart, soul and effort into making music, for NO reward and quite often face financial ruin because of it. There has to be some kind of deterrent!

    • asterik

      Yeah right. 90% of what is illegally downloaded would not have been bought legally anyway. People generally download things they like, but not so much they want to spend money on.

    • Charles H Small

      Again, it’s the copyright ASIGNEES and not the actual creators of the copyrighted material who bought and paid for this law and who are collecing the loot.

      • Michael

        RIAA does not get a whole lot of money from judgements. Just because there is a judgement does not force you to pay — the RIAA can’t get blood from a stone. After legal fees and investigative services, the RIAA only gets about 2% of any judgement Collected.

    • Michael

      The message is, don’t Share the music — or better yet, don’t be a thief and/or a cheapskate.

  • C.F. Farley

    The musicians and producers are NOT losing money. Most are generally paid at the time of the recording.

    • Charles H Small

      C.F.Farley is simply 100% wrong! Musicians are NOT paid at all, mostly. Due to “creative accountin” (chargebacks for everything), artists do not see a pennyin royalties until they sell more than about 4 million CDs. Lyle Lovett, for example, is on public record as saying, that despite enjoying modest CD sales for over 30 years, he has never gotten a penny in royalties! Out of every $0.99 iTune, the artist gets $0.04. The bulk of the profits from music sales goes overwhelmingly, not to the artists, but to the copyright assignees. And because they have so much money, they were able to pay for the Digital Millennium Act that imposes this kinds of draconian fine for what amounts to e-shoplifing. “Piratcy,” after all, is a very serious, violent felony. E-shoplifting is a minor misdemenor, is it not? What would have happened to Joel Tennenbaum had be been caught leaving K-Mart with two CDs he had not paid for? In civil court, despite popular opinion that massive judgements are common, usually all you get for proving your case are actual damages – which in this case would have been the royalties on 30 tunes. Punitive damages are usually proportional to the degree that the offense “shocks the conscience of the court.” The judge in this case had the gall to say Tennenbaum was getting off lightly because they did not throw the whole book at him, only 20% of it! Clearly, the DMA must be repealed and a new law drafted that distinguises between large-scale commercial copyright violations and e-shoplifing.

      • Michael

        Have to disagree with your Charles H. Small. The fact that the musician is not profiting as much is irrelevant. The issue is copyright infringement, not shoplifting. Gone are the days of walking into a music store and pushing a CD into your pants, and then bootlegging it on cassette tapes because the technology to burn CD’s doesn’t yet exist. You have to ask yourself, what if it was your music he was sharing illegally? Furthermore, the math is off where mp3’s are concerned. A $0.99 download on Amazon & iTunes nets the label $0.53, and the artist $0.09. What you don’t factor into the labels cut is marketing, etc.

  • http://www.information-entertainment.com Judi Copeland

    There has to be a happy medium between stealing music and overpaying big companies like the RIAA. Personally, I think these artists are being ripped off by the industry itself. If the music is good, with the advent of the Internet, there will be an audience. Artists can give the public some freebies to generate publicity for concerts. By cutting out the RIAA (AKA their pimps), the artists can make more money, find a new audience, and be heard on the merit of their work.

    • Charles H Small

      Since most musicians never get a record contract, and those who do make little money from royalties and make the bulk of their money from gigging, is it any supriprse that when one of the Three Record Comapnies (there are only three now) bought mp3.com, the world’s largest free music sharing site where musicians posted all their music to get exposure and publicity, the Record Company shut it down? What I do not understand is why some of the artits who seem to have some business acumen, such as Dolly Parton and Gene Simmons, don’t announce an artits’ co-op site (ASCAP and BMI are artists’ co-op) where anyone who can prove their content is original can post it and anyone can download it. And maybe even use the “shareware” model and allow downloaders to listen to the music and then later pay what they think is a fair price for it. The money would roll in, and into the pockets of the artists and not, where it currently goes, into the coffers of the Big Three Record Companies. Is there anyone who could do that “six degrees of separation” thing and pass my idea onto Dolly or Gene?

  • A. Weiner

    When I’m re-elected, I vow to challenge media copyright laws, to the full extent, and fight to get them set to a term of 20 years, as a standard.

    • Pete

      Anthony, is that you?

  • http://www.angersausomeaussies.com AngersAusomeAussies

    If one’s wants to download & copy music for personal use & still give credit to whom it is due is one thing, but to copy music & give credit to someone else is another thing. If one is doing that, then dont copy music. A fine is good but let’s set a limit here. It should be high enough so one will not do it again, but not so it ruins a person for life.

  • Tbo

    Musicians should get off their lazy asses and tour and sell their crap music in person. And as far as the great oldies are concerned, the money has already been made. I’m sick of hearing the rants of poor musicians along side of poor billionaire record companies. Tech has changed everything. Let’s all download and transfer files as much as possible!!!

  • Yuri

    Those same song cost 99 cents each at Apple market.

  • Michael

    The judgement was lenient considering Tenenbaum could have been hit with a maximum of $150,000 per infringement. Apparently he had been notified of the infringement and continued to thumb his nose at the RIAA. Also, keep in mind Zach Walton, that the amount per infringement has a lot to do with the potential revenue lost by the plaintiff as a result of the infringement. You might not think one song is worth $22,500, but based on an article I read in Rolling Stone, one hit song could reap $500,000 a year in radio royalties alone.