US student ordered to pay $675K fine to the RIAA

A PhD student at Boston University has been ordered to pay $675,000, split between four record labels, for sharing music over the internet.

Joel Tenenbaum, a 25 year old graduate student studying for a PhD in Physics, admitted using a variety of peer-to-peer software including Kazaa, iMesh and Napster to download and distribute the 30 songs focused on in the case, and admitted that he had lied during his first deposition in September 2008 when he suggested that some songs had been downloaded to his computer by family members or friends.

Evidence gathered using MediaSentry revealed that Tenenbuam was sharing 800 songs from his computer in August 2004, according to Ars Technica. He started sharing files in 1999, was warned by his father that he would get sued in 2002, received a warning letter from the law firm of the plaintiffs in this case in 2005, was sued in 2007, and only stopped part the way through 2008.

In a fairly one-sided trial, Judge Nancy Gertner found Tenenbuam guilty of violating copyright laws and left the jury to decide how much damages should be awarded - with US law stating that the record companies are entitled to between $750 and $30,000 for each of the 30 songs, or up to $150,000 per track if the infringments are found to be wilful. The jury decided on $22,500 for each infringement. The recording labels involved in the case were subsidiaries of Universal Music, Warner Music and Sony.

Mr Tenenbaum's attorney (and Harvard Law School professor) Charles Nesson told Ars Technica that the verdict was "a bankrupting award." Tenenbuam himself told Ars that he was "disappointed, but not surprised" and that he is unable to pay the fine and will have to file for bankruptcy if it stands. In a statement, the RIAA said, "We are grateful for the jury's service and their recognition of the impact of illegal downloading on the music community [...] We appreciate that Mr. Tenenbaum finally acknowledged that artists and music companies deserve to be paid for their work."

In June, American woman Jammie Thomas-Rasset was ordered to pay a total of $1.92 million in a similar trial with the songs contested in her case being fined for $80,000 each.

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