Boston University graduate student, Joel Tenenbaum, recently was ordered to pay $675,000 to record companies and the Recording Industry Association of America, for copyright infringement. The award was based on his having illegally downloaded and distributed 30 music files from the Internet. The award was made by a jury in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
Before the trial began the court excluded Tenenbaum's fair-use defense. On the stand Tenenbaum admitted that he had downloaded the music to his computer. Based on his testimony the court ruled against Tenenbaum on liability and held that the jury had only to determine the amount of damages to award.
At closing the defense argued that Tenenbaum was only a "kid" who had done what many other "kids" had done. The defense suggested that the jury should award 99 cents for each of the 30 songs Tenenbaum had downloaded - the sum he would have had to pay if he had legally purchased each song from an online music seller. The jury didn't buy the argument. It awarded $22,500 per song for a total of $675,000, although it could have awarded significantly more.
Tenenbaum has stated that he intends to appeal the award. In addition to the rejection of his fair-use defense, he also intends to argue that the award of statutory damages is unconstitutional.
This verdict suggests that jurors are still willing to award significant damages in copyright infringement cases, even in a situation where the infringing activity may be characterized as commonplace and something to be attributed to youthful indiscretion.
In the past the RIAA and record companies have settled many of their infringement cases for nominal sums. Given the results of this trial, settlement seems to be a far better defense strategy than taking the risk of a significant loss. Given the magnitude of the verdict the RIAA and record companies understandably may be less inclined to settle future cases for nominal sums.