AP By DENISE LAVOIE
BOSTON (AP) — A former Boston University student who was ordered to pay $675,000 for illegally downloading and sharing 30 songs on the Internet says he will continue fighting the penalty, despite the Supreme Court’s refusal Monday to hear his appeal.
Joel Tenenbaum, 28, of Providence, R.I., said he’s hoping a federal judge will reduce the amount.
“I can’t believe the system would uphold a six-figure damages amount for downloading 30 songs on a file-sharing system that everybody used,” Tenenbaum said. “I can’t believe the court would uphold something that ludicrous.”
A jury in 2009 ordered Tenenbaum to pay $675,000, or $22,500 per song, after the Recording Industry Association of America sued him on behalf of four record labels, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Brothers Records Inc. A federal judge called the penalty unconstitutionally excessive and reduced the award to $67,500, but the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later reinstated it.
The 1st Circuit said a new judge assigned to the case could reduce the award again, but the record labels would then be entitled to a new trial.
Tenenbaum, who said he just graduated Sunday from the university with a doctorate in statistical physics, said he doesn’t have the money to pay the judgment.
“I’ve been working on a graduate student’s stipend for six years now and I have no such money,” he said.
Tenenbaum argued that the U.S. Copyright Act is unconstitutional and that Congress did not intend the law to impose liability or damages when the copyright infringements amount to “consumer copying.”
During the trial, Tenenbaum admitted he downloaded and shared hundreds of songs by Green Day, Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins and others. His lawyer suggested the damages should be as little as 99 cents per song, about the same amount Tenenbaum would have to pay for a legal online song purchase.
Lawyers for the recording industry argued that illegal downloading hurt the recording industry by reducing income and profits. A lawyer for the recording labels described Tenenbaum as a “hardcore” copyright infringer. The association said it offered to settle the case for $5,000 early on, but Tenenbaum declined.
“We’re pleased with this decision,” RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said after the Supreme Court’s announcement Monday.
In the only other music-downloading case against an individual to go to trial, a judge last year reduced the penalty imposed on a Minnesota woman from $1.5 million to $54,000. An appeals court has scheduled arguments for next month in the case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset.
The story of Ampad, a company acquired by Bain Capital in 1992 that later went bankrupt, was used successfully by Democrats 18 years ago to help derail Mitt Romney’s run for a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts.
Now, the Obama campaign is resurrecting the case to help keep Romney out of the White House.
A new five-minute campaign web video aims to discredit Romney’s key selling point of his candidacy – his business experience – featuring testimonials of workers laid off from a Marion, Ind., office products factory acquired by Ampad in 1994. Romney was CEO of Bain at the time.
“Good paying job with good benefits. I loved the people I worked with. I thought I was settled in for life,” says worker Jerry Rayburn who lost his job after Bain came in.
Ampad went bankrupt in 2000, shedding a total of 1,500 jobs, according to the film. Bain profited $100 million from the deal.
“He’s just the opposite from Robin Hood,” one worker says of Romney.
With the Ampad video, the Obama campaign signals it is doubling down on the argument that Romney was a corporate raider more interested in amassing personal wealth than in creating jobs. Last week, Democrats focused on the case of Kansas City, Mo., steel company GST Steel, which was also acquired by Bain and later closed.
GST was featured in a TV ad attacking Romney that ran in five battleground states. Obama campaign officials said Sunday that they are extending the ad buy in Ohio.
Republicans and the Romney campaign have called the assault on Romney’s business record “character assassination” and an affront to capitalism and private equity – the same industry that employs some of Obama’s biggest donors, they note.
“The purpose of the president’s ads are not to describe success and failure, but to somehow to suggest that I’m not a good person or not a good guy,” Romney said last week.
Even Obama campaign surrogate, Newark mayor Cory Booker, argued the line of attack may be going too far, saying Sunday that he is “very uncomfortable” with it.
“President Obama continues his assault on the free enterprise system with attacks that one of his supporters, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, called ‘nauseating’ and a former adviser, Steven Rattner, called ‘unfair,'” said Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
“Under President Obama, too many Americans have lost their jobs and their homes. President Obama’s policies have failed every American who expected their president to focus on the economy and make things better,” she said.
The Romney campaign has been highlighting businesses that have been successful, job-creating Bain investments, including Staples and Sports Authority.