For many years now, the battle has raged on between music companies and internet users that seek to download and obtain copyrighted product for free. On one side, the legitimate argument that a product that is otherwise sold is being taken, or stolen, when downloaded for free.
On the other side looms the argument that the internet is an arena of free reign in which the music companies are out of line for being concerned with.
In the recent ruling of Sony BMG Music Entertainment V. Tenenbaum USCA, First Circuit June 25, 2013, the courts certainly affirmed the legitimacy of the music industry’s complaints.
Over the course of several years, Joel Tenenbaum downloaded as many as 5,000 individual songs online. This activity continued despite warnings from many parties including Tenenbaum’s own family members, friends, his college, and even a group of music companies. Eventually, Tenenbaum would face civil suit from Sony BMG Music Entertainment.
The subsequent suit went in Sony’s favor, with the jury deciding on an award of $675,000 for the plaintiff. This figure was actually a representation of the findings that Tenenbaum had also illegally distributed 30 songs, each having a jury-attached value of $22,500. Regardless, the total amount of $675,000 was far below the maximum allowable award that could have been awarded.
However, Tenenbaum sought an appeal, contesting that his constitutional rights were being violated by such a decision. Tenenbaum attempted to sway the appeals court in the direction of a previous case, BMW of North America v. Gore, alleging due process problems with the previous decision, based on the BMW case outcome. The court however, felt that the previous Gore case could not parallel copyright law context being measured in this current case.
Another previous Supreme Court case, St. Louis, I.M. & S. Ry. Co. v. Williams, was also a matter of precedence for the court to follow. In this previous case, the standard was set in assessing the constitutionality of statutory damages awarded. For the sake of Sony BMG Music Entertainment V. Tenenbaum, the overseeing appeals court correctly upheld the $675,000 ruling, finding that in light of the defendant’s actions, this award amount was proportionate to the offense, and thus constitutionally correct.