Debate rages as jury weighs damages in Tenenbaum music piracy case

Some express sympathy; others say BU student deserves to be punished

A stream of messages on the blog site reveals mixed feelings over the way the high-profile music piracy trial of Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum appears set to end.

Tenenbaum, a 25-year old doctoral student, on Thursday admitted to illegally downloading and distributing copyrighted music in front of a federal jury in U.S. District Court in Boston. The admission has left the jury in the case with nothing left to do but determine the size of the fine to impose on Tenenbaum. If the maximum penalty is assessed, he could be fined $4.5 million.

The Tenenbaum case is only the second ever Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) music piracy lawsuit to go to trial. Harvard Law school professor Charles Nesson is representing Tenenbaum in the case. The trial began on Monday.

Though the outcome is not entirely unexpected, it is still evoking angst among those who had hoped Tenenbaum might prevail. In a post, Joel FOUGHT Back, Debbie Rosenbaum, a student at Harvard Law School and part of Tenenbaum's defense team acknowledged the "disappointment among the public" over the outcome. "Although we could not win this case, we are proud to have highlighted the abuses and the inefficiency with which the music industry burdens the court system," Rosenbaum wrote.

The RIAA lawsuit, she said, was about more than just money. "It was also about the fact that Joel fought back on behalf of a generation that hasn't been able to defend itself against the well-paid lawyers who have been hired to scare order to 'teach them a lesson.'"

Rosenbaum's note drew out supporters as well as those opposition to her views.

"What Joel's case was about was simply this: corporate America trampling on the rights of individuals," wrote someone using the initials MCH. "What these lawsuits is (sic) truly about is greed, plain and simple."

Another writer using the name William Jansen likened the trial as a war of attrition, "Wars of attrition cannot be won unless some early frontline soldiers fight and die," Jansen wrote.

Others were less sympathetic. "Joel fought back by lying," wrote someone going by the name facebone. "Joel fought back by making the plaintiffs waste a lot of money that probably could have been used to better purposes." To recast "fighting back" as some sort of moral victory is a pretty pathetic and transparent attempt at rationalization."

"MLS" wrote that, based on Tenenbaum's testimony, "the only one who truly assassinated Mr. Tenenbaum's character was Mr. Tenenbaum himself. For every Joel Tenenbaum, I can point to another individual who chooses to follow the law instead of flout it. He fought back in an apparently vain attempt to escape the consequences of his actions."


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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