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 record labels.
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
Jurors ordered Tenenbaum to pay $22,500 for each incident of
copyright infringement, 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
"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
The Recording Industry Association of America issued a statement
thanking the jury for recognizing the impact illegal downloading
has on the music community.
"We appreciate that Mr. Tenenbaum finally acknowledged that
artists and music companies 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 federal jury 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
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
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.