US: File Sharer Fined $700,000, is it Proportionate?

John Tenenbaum who admitted sharing songs online this week.

A US student, John Tenenbaum, has this week been fined USD$675,000 for sharing music online.

The student admitted sharing the 40 songs in question, and has been fined $22,500 for each infringement. Further, Tenenbaum admitted “I downloaded, I uploaded” over 800 songs on Napster and latterly Kazaa.

Tenenbaum’s punishment echoes that received by a Minneapolis woman who was ordered to pay USD$1.92million for sharing 24 songs. However, Tenenbaum feels he “got off lightly” as his punishment was not into millions. The most the student could have been fined under US law was $4.5million.

This punishment for a student might be considered excessive, despite record company protestations at the leniency of the fine.

During the late 1990s, the internet came to many households and, once broadband access became widespread, file sharing grew among early adopters, such as students. Sites such as Napster, Kazaa, Winmx and Limewire were used extensively by a not insignificant number of young households, in many cases to download several thousands of songs, films, tv shows and more besides.

The fact then, as now, was that these youngsters simply could not afford to purchase thousands of single tracks at $0.99 each, therefore were unlikely, by their actions alone, to be taking money directly from recording artists.

It is also questionable how much of these huge fines the complainant is likely to recover from a student.

While illegal file sharing cannot be condoned, it must be considered that the music industry has evolved since the late 1990s and early 2000s when the activity was at its peak. If work is done cutting out file sharing at root: such as shutting down Napster and the recent Pirate Bay trials, the opportunities for filesharing will become marginalised.

Stop the facilitators and you stop those sharing files.

Of course, there will remain a hardcore who join private networks to continue file sharing activity, but they should be penalised for their many hundreds of infringements, not 24, not 40.

When seeking to make examples, perhaps, in future, record companies and their lawyers might look to those who are providers rather than users of file sharing technologies.

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