$675K music-sharing fine left intact by U.S. top court

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to take up a Boston University student's constitutional challenge to a $675,000 penalty for illegally downloading 30 songs and sharing them on the internet.

A Boston University student has failed in his attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court overturn his $675,000 penalty for illegally downloading 30 songs and sharing them on the internet.

Joel Tenenbaum, a graduate student from Providence, R.I., was one of the first two people to fight the RIAA in court over online file sharing. ((Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Associated Press))

The high court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from Joel Tenenbaum, of Providence, R.I., who was successfully sued by the Recording Industry Association of America for sharing music on peer-to-peer networks. The RIAA said he downloaded songs and made music files available for distribution on the Kazaa file-sharing network in 2004.

In 2009, a jury ordered Tenenbaum to pay $675,000, or $22,500 for each song he downloaded and shared. A federal judge called that unconstitutionally excessive, but the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston reinstated the penalty at the request of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Brothers Records Inc. and other record labels represented by the RIAA.  

The lower-court judge will have a new opportunity to look at the case and could again order the penalty reduced, using different legal reasoning.

1st ever case

Tenenbaum and Jammie Thomas-Rasset were the first two defendants in RIAA-instigated trials over online file sharing.

Thomas-Rasset, a mother from Minnesota who shared 24 songs over the internet, has had the damage award against her fluctuate as her case passed through the courts. She was at one point ordered to pay $1.9 million US in damages, but more recently the amount was reduced to $54,000, which the record companies are appealing.

The RIAA launched thousands of lawsuits against alleged file sharers in the United States between 2003 and 2008, when the industry group announced it was backing off from its legal blitz. Most of those cases settled out of court for a few thousand dollars.

The association spent far more on legal fees in pursuing those lawsuits than it ever recovered in settlements and damages.

No one has been successfully sued in Canada for downloading music or sharing it online. Most forms of music copying for "private use" are expressly legal under the Copyright Act.

With files from The Associated Press