August 1, 2009, 08:29 AM ET
Jury Orders Boston U. Graduate Student to Pay $675,000 for Illegal Downloads
A federal jury on Friday ordered a Boston University graduate student to pay four music companies $675,000, one day after the student, Joel Tenenbaum, admitted in court that he had downloaded and distributed more than two dozen songs that did not belong to him.
Only a few hours after Mr. Tenenbaum's testimony on Thursday, the judge found him guilty of violating copyright law, leaving it to the the jury to decide the amount of damages he would have to pay.
After leaving the courtroom last night, Mr. Tenenbaum told the blog Ars Technica, which has been following the trial all week, that he was "disappointed but not surprised."
The jury could have demanded that Mr. Tenenbaum, a 25-year-old physics student, pay as much as $4.5-million. In a separate lawsuit in June, a woman was ordered to pay $1.92-million in damages for downloading 24 songs. The Recording Industry Association of America had accused Mr. Tenenbaum of downloading 30 songs.
"I'm thankful that it wasn't much bigger, that it wasn't millions," Mr. Tenenbaum said, adding that he will file for bankruptcy protection if the award stands.
In a written statement, the association said it was pleased with the outcome. "We appreciate that Mr. Tenenbaum finally acknowledged that artists and music companies deserve to be paid for their work," the statement said. "We only wish he had done so sooner rather than lie about his illegal behavior."
Since the judge, Nancy Gertner of the U.S. District Court in Boston, decided that Mr. Tenenbaum could not argue that the downloaded music would fall under "fair use," which copyright law permits, just hours before the trial began, on Monday, it seemed that the verdict had already been decided, and it was only a matter of how much damages he would be ordered to pay.
"We weren't allowed to speak to fairness," Charles R. Nesson, a Harvard law professor representing Mr. Tenenbaum, told Ars Technica. "I thought we had a pretty damn good argument of fair use."
Even though the trial is over, it is doubtful that the court has heard the last from Mr. Tenenbaum and Mr. Nesson. Last month Judge Gertner ordered Mr. Nesson to destroy recordings of court proceedings that he had posted online, or face sanctions. The recordings remain posted on a Harvard Web site.