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21 Apr, 2009 07:06

Copyright madness: $1 million for 7 songs

A U.S. student could face a $1 million fine for his passion for music. In a landmark case, he's being sued for illegally downloading just seven songs. One of the country's top law schools is ready to defend him.

Almost everyone has downloaded music off the Internet at least once in their life. A common American teenager has on average about 800 songs illegally downloaded onto their iPod.

But as Joel Tenenbaum has learned, just a couple of times can be all it takes to get into big trouble in the U.S.

For the last six years, he has been pursued by five major music companies for downloading seven songs off the Internet and sharing them with friends.

“The law passed by Congress in 1999 says it’s a $750 [fine] per song. It’s $150,000 per song, if willful. They intend to go after me for willful infringement,” Tenenbaum says, adding “If I punched someone in the face, I’d be in court because – yeah – I punched someone in the face. Then everybody would say ‘well, you punched someone in the face, what do you expect?’ But when you tell someone you’re being sued for downloading music, they look at you with this kind of horror, because it’s as if you just told them it’s illegal to look at YouTube videos. And people say “Jesus, we better watch out!”

In the recent past, 30,000 people have been accused, but Joel’s trial will be only the second case to have its day in court. The majority of the other cases are kept secret, and most have settled for up to $12,000. People have paid the money to the music companies to make the problem go away.

A group of Harvard Law School students and a professor, Charles Nesson, are fighting a major battle against the music industry.

“It’s because Joel has got balls! You know, it’s like 'ok!' Joel is not a criminal infringer. He didn’t do anything for money. He was basically a kid, who was sharing music free on the net. He’s just a music fan, like millions of others, who learn to enjoy what they can find on the net,” Nesson says.

A group of the Professor’s students like Jimmy Richardson and Debbie Rosenbaum are also fighting for Joel.

“Let them take the step into inspecting our e-mail, pretty soon, we’re in a space where corporations are actually affecting and controlling and violating our communications. And it becomes common. We’re going to have a whole generation of kids, who have their e-mail monitored by Google, and they’ll think it’s normal. And it’s not normal! It wasn’t normal when I was a kid, and it shouldn’t be normal today. So we gotta push back!” Richardson says.

“There are two parallel battles: one is the battle in the courtroom, and one is a battle in the court of public opinion. There is a wave of public support, and all of us are Joel,” Rosenbaum says.

While many can associate themselves with Joel, he will be the one going bankrupt if found guilty. So far – his trial has been repeatedly postponed.