Record Companies Win In Tenenbaum Music-Sharing Case9:15 AM EST Fri. Jul. 31, 2009
Four major record labels have won their case against a graduate student they sued for copyright infringement after he illegally downloaded music from the Internet. The only real question now facing the jurors in the federal courtroom in Boston is the amount of damages to award the plaintiffs.
Judge Nancy Gertner issued a directed order early Friday that the defendant, Joel Tenenbaum, was guilty of copyright infringement after he admitted under oath Thursday that he had illegally downloaded music from the Internet, according toa posting by blogger Ben Sheffner who has been covering the trial.
Tenenbaum, 25, a Boston University physics graduate student, could face penalties of as much as $4.5 million in the case -- more than the $1.92 million judgment in a similar trial in Minnesota last month.
The suit accused Tenenbaum of illegally downloading 30 songs using Kazaa, LimeWire and other peer-to-peer file-sharing sites, although the plaintiffs said Tenenbaum, a Providence, R.I. resident, actually downloaded as many as 800 songs.
Tenenbaum Thursday took the stand and repeatedly admitted that he had downloaded and distributed the 30 songs and that he had lied in earlier responses to written answers during pre-trial discovery in which he denied doing so, according to Sheffner's blog.
"Are you admitting liability for all 30 sound recordings?" asked plaintiffs' attorney Tim Reynolds. "Yes," Tenenbaum replied, according to the blog.
Given Tenenbaum's testimony, Judge Gertner issued the directed verdict, saying the issue of liability had been conceded by the defendant and the jury no longer needed to decide that question.
But Gertner did not issue a directed verdict on the questions of "willfulness," -- whether Tenenbaum's actions constituted a deliberate intent to violate copyright laws -- or on the damages owed the plaintiffs, which include Arista Records, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group Recordings and Warner Brothers Records. Those questions will be left to the jury, which could get the case as early as Friday afternoon.
The jury could award the record labels damages ranging from $750 to $30,000 for each copyright infringement and another $150,000 for each "willfull" infringement, pushing the potential judgment to as much as $4.5 million.
The recording industry has filed a number of lawsuits against individuals they charged with illegally downloading music. Last month a jury awarded record companies $1.92 million in their lawsuit against Jammie Thomas-Rasset of Minnesota.
The record labels brought the lawsuits as a way to publicize the issue of illegal music downloading. But the suits began to become a public relations problem for the industry, and the record companies now say they prefer to work with Internet service providers to prevent illegal music sharing.