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Q&A: Tenenbaum says he faces bankruptcy after $675K piracy verdict

'Reality' and 'reasonableness' are needed with RIAA lawsuits, says student

August 7, 2009 06:03 AM ET

Computerworld - In a major victory for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a federal jury one week ago fined Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum $675,000 for illegally downloading and distributing 30 copyrighted songs.

Tenenbaum's case is only the second RIAA music piracy lawsuit to go to trial. The first ended in June with the jury in that case assessing damages of $1.92 million against Minnesota native Jammie Thomas-Rasset for copyright infringement. In an interview, Tenenbaum -- now something of a cause celebre among those opposed to the RIAA campaign -- talked about his case, the size of the fine against him and his attempts to get the "RIAA juggernaut" off his back.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

What was your reaction to the verdict? I was disappointed, but not surprised. I saw how the trial had gone. The judge was very successful in convincing the jury that this law passed in 1999 should be applied to me. My legal team and I didn't think this law was ever meant for non-commercial downloaders. But the judge succeeded in convincing the jury ... that for each song they were required to (fine an amount) between $750 and $150,000. So, given the jury instructions, it seemed pretty inevitable that I would get hit with some completely unrealistic fine.

So are you going to pay? Yes I am going to pay up. I'll flip the couch and find, what would it be, 60 million pennies?

What then is the next step? If (the fine) stays in the range of something completely crazy, which I can't pay, I have no choice but to declare bankruptcy. We have the option of appealing to the judge to adjust the damages, which apparently she [has] within her power to do. On top of that, we can appeal to the next court up. And I think we have the basis for that. We were denied our 'fair use' defense. The judge basically said, 'No this isn't the defense the jury should be allowed to hear.' We think it was a mistake in justice and fairness and a mistake in law.

Didn't the judge rule that accepting your definition of fair use would basically give copyright owners no protection at all? Well, I disagree with that. The judge is better versed than I am in this, better versed in the law and has been on the bench for some years. So I don't want to go out and say something like, 'Oh, she is so wrong.' But I do think that it was a mistake, both in fairness and in law. I think it was partially an issue of plaintiffs citing a whole bunch of case law showing that fair use had never been decided by a jury. I think fair use is a defense the jury should at least have heard and have had a chance to decide upon for themselves.



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