The federal court jury deliberated for three hours last Friday before deciding that BU graduate student Joel Tenenbaum owes $675,000 in damages, or $22,500 for each of 30 songs he admitted to downloading. The evidence showed an unrepentant Tenenbaum continued to download music despite repeated warnings of escalating seriousness; he continued to download music after this lawsuit was filed. Tenenbaum was lucky; the damage award could have been much higher, up to $150,000 per song.
Why did he choose to try this case? The facts and law were totally against him. He is not a compelling poster boy for the unfairness of copyright law. He admitted on the stand that he lied in a deposition when he denied downloading the contested files. The court did not allow him to present a fair use defense, and rightly so despite Charlie Nesson’s protestations. There is no factual basis to argue fair use in this case, and there is nothing in the facts that would encourage a court to read fair use more broadly. He could have settled for $3,000-$4,000 and put the matter behind him. Now he must content with a six-figure damage award that will undoubtedly be upheld if appealed, and that he obviously cannot pay. He will have no choice but to file for bankruptcy, a financial millstone at the start of his post-graduate career. I hope his lawyers explained the likelihood of this outcome long before trial. They failed utterly in their obligations if they did not.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.