Jury awards $675K in Boston music downloading case

Jury awards $675K in Boston music downloading case (AP)
Joel Tenenbaum, a graduate student from Providence, R.I., poses outside federal court, after taking the stand in his defense in his copyright-infringement trial, Thursday, July 30, 2009, in Boston. Tenenbaum is accused of illegally swapping music through an online file-sharing network. (AP Photo/Bizuayehu Tesfaye)

(AP) -- A federal jury on Friday ordered a Boston University graduate student who admitted illegally downloading and sharing music online to pay $675,000 to four record labels.

Joel Tenenbaum, of Providence, R.I., admitted in court that he downloaded and distributed 30 songs. The only issue for the jury to decide was how much in damages to award the .

Under federal law, the recording companies were entitled to $750 to $30,000 per infringement. But the law allows as much as $150,000 per track if the jury finds the infringements were willful. The maximum jurors could have awarded in Tenenbaum's case was $4.5 million.

Jurors ordered Tenenbaum to pay $22,500 for each incident of , effectively finding that his actions were willful. The attorney for the 25-year-old student had asked the jury earlier Friday to "send a message" to the music industry by awarding only minimal damages.

Tenenbaum said he was thankful that the case wasn't in the millions and contrasted the significance of his fine with the maximum.

"That to me sends a message of 'We considered your side with some legitimacy,'" he said. "$4.5 million would have been, 'We don't buy it at all.'"

He added he will file for bankruptcy if the verdict stands.

Tenenbaum's lawyer, Harvard Law School professor Charles Nesson, said the jury's verdict was not fair. He said he plans to appeal the decision because he was not allowed to argue a case based on fair use.

The Recording Industry Association of America issued a statement thanking the jury for recognizing the impact has on the music community.

"We appreciate that Mr. Tenenbaum finally acknowledged that artists and deserve to be paid for their work," the statement said. "From the beginning, that's what this case has been all about. We only wish he had done so sooner rather than lie about his illegal behavior."

Tenenbaum would not say if he regretted downloading music, saying it was a loaded question.

"I don't regret drinking underage in college, even though I got busted a few times," he said.

The case is only the nation's second music downloading case against an individual to go to trial.

Last month, a in Minneapolis ruled that Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 32, must pay $1.92 million, or $80,000 on each of 24 songs, after concluding she willfully violated the copyrights on those tunes.

The jury began deliberating the case Friday afternoon.

After Tenenbaum admitted Thursday he is liable for damages for 30 songs at issue in the case, U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner ruled that the jury must consider only whether his copyright infringement was willful and how much in damages to award four recording labels that sued him over the illegal file-sharing.

In his closing statement Friday, Nesson repeatedly referred to Tenenbaum as a "kid" and asked the jury to award only a small amount to the recording companies. At one point, Nesson suggested the damages should be as little as 99 cents per song, roughly the same amount Tenenbaum would have to pay if he legally purchased the music online.

But Tim Reynolds, a lawyer for the recording labels, recounted Tenenbaum's history of file-sharing from 1999 to 2007, describing him as "a hardcore, habitual, long-term infringer who knew what he was doing was wrong." Tenenbaum admitted on the witness stand that he had downloaded and shared more than 800 songs.

Tenenbaum said he downloaded and shared hundreds of songs by Nirvana, Green Day, The Smashing Pumpkins and other artists. The recording industry focused on only 30 songs in the case.

The music industry has typically offered to settle such cases for about $5,000, though it has said that it stopped filing such lawsuits last August and is instead working with Internet service providers to fight the worst offenders. Cases already filed, however, are proceeding to trial.

Tenenbaum testified that he had lied in pretrial depositions when he said his two sisters, friends and others may have been responsible for downloading the songs to his computer.

Under questioning from his own lawyer, Tenenbaum said he now takes responsibility for the illegal swapping.

"I used the computer. I uploaded, I downloaded music ... I did it," Tenenbaum said.


Associated Press writer Jeannie Nuss contributed reporting from Boston.
©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Aug 01, 2009
30 songs!, a fine of $675,000 for 30 songs!, large multi-nationals all around the world are being propped up by governments so they can be protected from their mistakes while individuals get punished disproportionately for minor crimes. All this man did was download 30 songs, if people went ahead and downloaded from him, that's their crime, not his. This is insane and unjust, f**k the music industry

Aug 02, 2009
No he didn't only download 30 songs please re-read the article again. He was only 'prosecuted' for 30 songs.

However I would agree that fining somebody a riduculous amount that they could never afford to pay simply shows the idiocy of the system.

When people in the street see movie stars and musicians making millions per performance and compare that with the little that they make in their life I can see that it could be perceived as being too much for too little, especically when you see many 'so called' super stars spending that money dusting their noses.

I would like to ask why I'm expected to pay royalties to a composer who has been dead for 100 years simply because sombody pays the copyright rights to the work. If I build a house do you think my relatives could charge a levy for it a hundred years after my death to each and every owner each time they entered it?

Yes innovation has to be rewarded but the current copyright laws are way out of date and out of touch with reality. Moreover movie and music companies like it this way, which is why it will never change all the time they have political clout.

Aug 02, 2009
He says that he is "taking responsibility" for his crime, but also says that he will file for bankruptcy. Ha.

they will never ever stop music piracy. No matter what they do, someone will find a way around the Digital Rights Management, and abuse the system. It is absurd and ignorant to think that "making an example" out of these guys is ever going to change that.
What is faulty here, are the music companies business models.

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