Obama admin. says $675,000 is an appropriate punishment for sharing 30 songs

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, April 7, 2011 10:51 EDT
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Making good on its earlier promises, the Obama Administration went to court this week to defend the unpopular Copyright Act and what critics call as its extremely high per-song fines.

In a recent appeal of a decision that gutted a $675,000 finding against an Internet user who downloaded and shared just 30 songs, the government sided with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in claiming that a judge has no right to reduce the amount, no matter how “excessive” it may be deemed.

The administration said last year that it supported fines in the Copyright Act of up to $150,000-per-file.

The suit’s target is Joel Tenenbaum, only the second defendant in America to take an RIAA lawsuit to a jury trial.

Last year he lost his preliminary trial, but U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner called the music industry’s total claim “unconstitutionally excessive” and reduced it to $67,500.

That comes out to around $2,250-per-song — a total she said was “still severe,” but sent a “strong” message to other media pirates.

Recording industry lawyers had argued that due to modern technology’s “viral nature,” sharing even a single album has the potential to cause “billions of dollars in damages” to music publishers.

Tenenbaum appeared before the First Circuit of Appeals Monday to argue that even the reduced amount is excessive.

Opposing him, the RIAA and the Obama administration argued that the original verdict was justified and the judge was abusing her authority by reducing the original fine of $675,000.

The Copyright Act’s minimum per-file fee is $750.

The appeal is ongoing in Boston. An audio recording of the opening arguments was available online, courtesy of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Image credit: Flickr commons

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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