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BU student found liable in music-swapping case

Federal judge has ruled that Joel Tenenbaum violated copyright laws when swapping music online. And now he could end up owing record labels millions in damages.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

A federal judge ruled late Thursday that Joel Tenenbaum, a 25-year-old Boston University graduate student, has violated copyright infringement laws by illegally downloading and sharing music on the Internet.

Tenenbaum could end up owing the recording industry millions of dollars in damages for swapping music online. The jury is considering monetary damages on Friday. The question the jury must consider in assessing the damages is whether his infringement was willful. This will help determine how much in damages should be awarded to the four recording labels that sued him over the illegal file sharing.

The music studios are entitled to $750 to $30,000 per infringement according to federal law. But the law also gives the jury discretion to raise that to as much as $150,000 per track if it finds the infringements were willful. This means that if the jury gives him the maximum punishment, Tenenbaum could owe as much as $4.5 million.

Tenenbaum admitted on the witness stand Thursday that he downloaded and shared hundreds of songs. The studios suing Tenenbaum have only focused their case on 30 songs. Tenenbaum's lawyers said after he testified that he did not understand the implications of his admission, according to a story on the Boston Globe's Web site.

But the judge didn't buy it. U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner said in her ruling that "Tenenbaum's statement plainly admits liability on both downloading and distributing, does so in the very language of the statute...and does so with respect to each and every sound recording at issue here."

While the music industry has taken legal action against file-sharing Web sites and other file sharers, only two cases involving individual file-sharers have gone to trial.

Jammie Thomas-Rasset from Minnesota also fought her case in court. Last month, a federal jury in Minneapolis ruled she must pay nearly $2 million for copyright infringement.

Most complaints against people sharing music illegally have been settled out of court, with defendants paying a total of about $3,000 to $5,000.

Updated at 4:10 p.m. PDT: The Boston Globe later updated its story to say the jury ordered Tenenbaum to pay the RIAA $675,000, or $22,500 for each song.