The saga of Joel Tenenbaum continued this morning, as the U.S. Supreme Court decided against hearing Tenenbaum's constitutional challenge of a massive $675,000 fine the Boston University student received for downloading music and sharing it on the Internet.
Tenenbaum's saga has been raging since way back in 2003 - when he first received a $3,500 fine for his downloading and sharing from the Recording Industry Association of America. In the case of Sony BMG Music Entertainment et al. v. Tenenbaum, which officially went to court in 2009 (and includes Sony BMG, along with Warner Bros. Records, Atlantic Records, Arista Records and UMG Recordings as plaintiffs), a jury imposed Tenenbaum's $675,000 fine, although a U.S. District Court judge in Boston later reduced it to $67,500 - saying such a penalty was unconstitutional.
However, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later reinstated the original penalty, ruling the District Court had screwed up by not considering whether the penalty should have been something for a common law remittitur to lower.
According to a Bloomberg account of Tenenbaum's argument:
Tenenbaum said individual downloaders who don't make money from sharing songs shouldn't be treated the same as companies whose business is to steal copyrighted content. A U.S. appeals court rejected that argument, ruling that all illegal downloaders, regardless of their motives, are subject to the same range of penalties.
"This pernicious interpretation of the Copyright Act transforms every bit of cyberspace into a potentially exploding lawsuit and is sparking the development of a spam-litigation industry," Tenenbaum's lawyers said in his high court appeal.
Now that the Supreme Court has refused to weigh in, the case will go back to the U.S. District Court, and a new judge, where the penalty facing Tenenbaum - $22,500 for each song he illegally downloaded and shared - could once again be reduced. Or upheld. Who knows.
The only piece of certainty in all this is the ridiculousness will continue and, whatever happens, it won't return record labels to their pre-Internet glory days or stop people from sharing music online.
But it might teach Joel Tenenbaum a lesson.