Thursday, May 24, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court Decision Sounds Like Bad News for Music Downloaders

Paul Izzo/SharonPatch

Parents of children that enjoy music, be warned.

Illegally downloading copyrighted music off the Internet carries very serious penalties.

Recently, in a case that attracted much attention in the music industry, the
United States Supreme Court
declined to hear an appeal of a lower federal
court decision that imposed damages of $675,000 against a college student that
downloaded 30 – that’s right, just 30 – songs off the Internet.

Joel Tenenbaum was a student at Goucher College in Maryland. Rather than
purchase music on I-Tunes or one of the other online music sources, Joel used
some file-sharing software to download and distribute two-and-a-half dozen
copyrighted songs belonging to major record labels such as Sony, Arista and

According to his website, in 2003, Tenenbaum received a notice accusing him of
downloading music through the P2P service. He was offered the chance to settle the case for $3,500. He called a "payment hotline" and offered $500. The offer was denied.

In 2007, Tenenbaum was sued. After trial, a jury assessed damages of $22,500 for each sound illegally downloaded.

On appeal, Tenenbaum argued that the damages award was impermissibly
excessive and, therefore, unconstitutional. A federal appeals court disagreed, and the high court yesterday declined Tenenbaum’s petition that the case be heard.

Tenenbaum's case is not unique.

According to one lawyer that operates a web site devoted to tracking recording industry litigation, there are literally hundreds of federal cases pending against persons alleged to have downloaded music illegally.

There are calls in the legal and business community for Congress to consider
reducing the size and scope of potential damages awards. The idea that some college student could get hit for more than a million dollars in damages for "stealing" music he or she could have purchased for less than $100 strikes many as improper.

On the other hand, recording industry representatives argue that the threat of litigation has a deterrent effect on many millions of music lovers that might be tempted to acquire copyrighted music without paying for it.

The upshot of the Supreme Court decision is that for the time being, it is unlikely that a major federal court will rule any time soon that large damages are improper in illegal downloading cases. Parents would be wise to sit down and speak with their children and explain the risks associated with acquiring digital music not purchased through legitimate means.

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