Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Joel Tenenbaum Appeal in Music Piracy Case

U.S. Supreme Court Building - H 2011
Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. Supreme Court Building - H 2011

The long-running saga of Joel Tenenbaum, the Boston student penalized $675,000 for illegally downloading and sharing 31 songs online, has taken a new turn. The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear the Boston University PhD student's constitutional challenge to the penalty, which resulted from a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the RIAA. The move is a win for the music industry in its unending crusade against piracy.

In 2009, a jury ruled that Tenenbaum must pay $22,500 per song that he downloaded and shared on the Internet. A federal judge later ruled that penalty to be excessive and reduced it to $67,500 but the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the penalty at the request of the RIAA and its member labels.

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Tenenbaum, whose case became a hot topic among copyright lawyers, argued that federal copyright laws were not meant to target consumers. He later appealed to the Supreme Court on the argument that the penalty was unconstitutional. But in refusing to hear the case, the High Court is letting stand the appeals court ruling on the constitutionality issue. 

Now the case will return to the lower court, which could order the penalty reduced using a different legal reasoning, just not the constitutionality issue.


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