Yep, that’s $22,500 for each of the 30 songs that Mr. Joel Tenenbaum admitted to downloading and sharing. The jury was kind enough to lower the RIAA’s initial valuation of the damages down from the $150,000 to which they are entitled for willful copyright infringement.
The Boston University student was defended by Professor Charlie Nesson of Harvard Law School and the Berkman Center, who (in classic Charlie Nesson style) turned this into a tremendous opportunity for a group of his students (Yay Charlie!). Tenenbaum was only the second person to take the RIAA to court after receiving one of their thousands of letters. More than 30,000 others have settled their cases for between $3,000 – $12,000.
One of the things that surprises me–although I suppose it shouldn’t–is how often the public library metaphor comes up in these discussions. Mr. Tenenbaum said of downloading music, “it was like this giant library in front of you.” Supporters on his Joel Fights Back site say that calling downloading music illegal is like illegalizing public libraries. And while I in NO WAY want to defend the behaviour of the RIAA, I think this both misses the point and does a disservice to libraries. Libraries have to purchase their materials. They lend them on good faith assuming you will return them, not give them away. Too often the ‘free culture’ movement devolves into a rant about how all culture should be ‘free’ for the consumer. All you have to do is go back to Lessig to be reminded that when we talk about free culture, we don’t mean ‘that kind of free’ (from Free Culture, p. xiv):
…we come from a tradition of “free culture”—not “free”as in “free beer”(to borrow a phrase from the founder of the free-software movement), but “free”as in “free speech,”“free markets,”“free trade,”“free enterprise,”“free will,”and “free elections.”A free culture supports and protects creators and innovators. It does this directly by granting intellectual property rights. But it does so indirectly by limit-ing the reach of those rights, to guarantee that follow-on creators and innovators remain as free as possible from the control of the past. A free culture is not a culture without property, just as a free market is not a market in which everything is free.