Music Industry's Crackdown on Illegal Downloaders Gets a Boost From Supreme Court

Court declines to review a $675,000 jury award against Boston University student who downloaded a mere 30 songs.

The music industry's attack on illegal music downloaders just got a big boost from the Supreme Court.

The court on Monday declined to review a $675,000 jury award against Boston University  student Joel Tenenbaum, who downloaded a mere 30 songs.

Tenenbaum had hoped to challenge the constitutionality of a 2009 jury award and the copyright law provisions at issue in the case.

The plaintiffs in the case were Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Warner Bros. Records, Arista Records LLC, Atlantic Recording Corp. and UMG Recordings.

The court’s refusal to intervene lets stand a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals' 1st Circuit Court in Boston last year, which agreed that Tenebaum’s illegal downloads were “willful,” meaning that they were  punishable by awards ranging from $750 to $150,000 per incident, under U.S. copyright law.

The RIAA's comment was short and sweet: “We’re pleased with this decision,” it said in a statement.

Also read: Movies Taking a Page From Music Piracy Handbook

“The broader message sent by the litigation generally is people are not anonymous when they steal music online and they can be sued,” Jennifer Pariser, RIAA senior vice president, litigation, told TheWrap.

Pariser also told TheWrap that RIAA is not currently pursuing a litigation campaign against illegal downloaders but is instead working with Internet service providers who put subscribers on notice “when they’re illegally downloading music.“

Tenenbaum told TheWrap he would continue to fight. “The case is back in the hands of the district court to determine the final penalty,” he told TheWrap in an email. “Regardless, nearly any amount of damages I am forced to pay will bankrupt me or be an obligation I will have to share with my family.”

Charles Nesson, a Harvard Law School professor who has been representing Tenenbaum, told TheWrap that his client could now go back to the district court and seek a reduction in the fine from the presiding judge.

“They [the Supreme Court justices] are sending us down a rat hole,” Nesson told TheWrap.

The 2007 lawsuit originally stemmed from a litigation campaign launched by the Recording Industry Association of America, in behalf of major record companies, to crack down on illegal file sharing.

Tenenbuam declined to settle with RIAA, arguing in part that individuals who don’t profit commercially from the file sharing shouldn’t be hammered with the full weight of the law. But in its 2009 award, the jury in the case disagreed.

“We reject all of Tenenbaum’s arguments,” added the Boston appeals court in its 2011 decision, adding that Sony and the other plaintiffs in case had presented evidence that Tenenbaum had illegally downloaded and distributed “thousands of copyrighted materials.”