Supreme Court Won't Hear Joel Tenenbaum's Music Downloading Case

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 25, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The First Circuit Court of Appeals takes a firm stance on illegal downloads.

Or at least it seems that way in light of the Tenenbaum ruling. Now, the Supreme Court has denied certiorari in his case, and it looks like the $675,000 penalty against the former Boston University graduate student will stand.

Joel Tenenbaum was sued in 2009 by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) after he downloaded 30 songs from the Internet for free and shared them on a peer-to-peer network.

He was fined $22,500 for each song, totaling $675,000. A U.S. district court eventually brought down the fine to $67,500, finding that the original fine was unconstitutionally excessive.

The record labels weren't thrilled with the district court's decision, and the case went before the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The First Circuit held in favor of the record labels and reinstated the fine.

The damages provisions under U.S. copyright law place damages of $750 to $150,000 per violation. Tenenbaum's lawyers argued that he didn't make any money on the downloads, and shouldn't face the same penalties as companies who profit from stealing copyrights. The First Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the argument, citing that a violation is a violation, regardless of the motive.

Joel Tenenbaum was just one of several people caught in the music industry's illegal piracy crackdown. The music industry sent thousands of notices and tried to sue over 12,000 people for illegally-downloading music.

But without giving any reason, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear Tenenbaum's case. Tenenbaum isn't done, though. He has indicated that he plans to continue fighting his case.

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