The problem is both Joel and the RIAA have a point. Joel might not have made money from the music he shared but he did deny whatever few cents that the artist might've gotten from a CD/Download that was bought legally. What raises everyone's hackles is obviously the immensely disproportionate damages and harassment that Joel and his like are being subject to.
The RIAA is definitely doing this to make an example. I don't think they much care about winning the damages as long as they've made their point. And no court is going to throw the case out either since the RIAA argument does have merit. The concepts clouding the case are
1. The RIAA is right but its intimidation is over the top and as a well funded entity using well exposed bullying tactics, it raises natural responses of disgust. And its ridiculous ads only serve to solidify the image of fatcat industrialists trying to suppress and oppress.
2. The RIAA is also an obsolete entity representing a fast declining way of making money off the back of creativity. The music industry itself is structured in such a way that mounds and mounds of flab in the form of useless MBAs and analysts and marketers and distributors have to be paid off. Its like one of those large corporate NGOs where 8% of your donation reaches the hungry child and the rest goes to pay those glossy mailers, envelope lickers and people plotting how to assault you with pictures selected to wrench your heart.
3. If they were serious about surviving they would've latched onto better ways of distributing music like Apple has and trimmed their physical business and wouldn't have put themselves in this position in the first place
4. It would've been so easy to mail Joel a reasonable bill for a few hundred $s, a booklet advising him on how cheap it is to pay on itunes and some simplified lawyer-speak on how keeping on with illegal sharing/downloads hurts everyone. A hundred such Joels and most of us would've gotten the message and all the consumer threats to never buy an MB of music would've been non-existent. But No! Lawyers wouldn't get paid thataway would they?
5. This is related to 2 in that all the flab creeps the price of a CD to whatever and to top off consumer disgust, albums rarely have more than 2 or 3 good songs. Consumers are disgusted with this and refuse to buy whole CDs preferring instead to download them illegaly. This in fact is the first argument offered by illegal downloaders.
So are the consumers blameless? Of course not. Its plain and simple stealing. The edge is taken off our guilt by the sheer ease of being able to hate the Music industry/RIAA with their lawyers and fatcats. Some of that hate is rubbing off on artists too.