Boston Man Charged $675,000 for Illicit File-Sharing

Dennis Faas's picture

Last summer unlucky defendant Joel Tenenbaum was just the second individual defendant sued by the RIAA, or Record Industry Association of America, for illegal file sharing practices. His case led to an astounding $675,000 verdict in favor of the RIAA, and now a U.S. District judge has affirmed the original result.

Tenenbaum, a 25-year-old Boston University student, was in July 2009 found guilty of illegally sharing just 30 files. The result marked only the second time an individual had been sued by the RIAA, who in an equally unpopular earlier legal crusade went after single mother Jammie Thomas-Rassett, who was eventually forced to pay $222,000 in damages. When a second trial was granted after investigators found errors in jury instructions, the new jury increased the fine to an astonishing $1.92 million -- all for illegally downloading about two CDs, or 24 songs. (Source:

Judge Refuses RIAA's Censor Request

Shortly after his verdict came down in July, Tenenbaum used the media attention to promote piracy and criticize both the verdict and the RIAA. In response, the RIAA requested U.S. District judge Nancy Gertner, the judge who affirmed the original $675,000, to censor Tenenbaum. Although the RIAA will, it seems, get their money, Gertner declined the censor request.

"Although plaintiffs are entitled to statutory damages, they have no right to silence defendant's criticism of the statutory regime under which he is obligated to pay those damages," Gertner noted. "This court has neither the desire nor the authority to serve as the censor of defendant's public remarks regarding online file sharing." (Source:

Tenenbaum, Thomas-Rassett Among 30,000 Sued by RIAA

While the Tenenbarm and Thomas-Rassett cases have attracted the most attention, the RIAA has actually sued about 30,000 individuals over the last six years for file sharing practices. However, most of these cases haven't come this far, with the majority being settled out of court.

Tenenbaum's defenders, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, are seeking a new trial, and Gertner gave them until January 4 to do so. It's expected Tenenbaum and his team will argue that such massive damages for one individual is unconstitutional. "Applications of huge statutory damages to individual people like Joel is unconstitutional," said Tenenbaum's lead attorney, Charles Nesson.

For its part, the RIAA is understandably happy with the decision. "We're pleased that the court has entered judgment that fully reflects the jury's conclusion in addition to requiring Mr. Tenenbaum to destroy all illegal music files and refrain from further theft of our music," said an RIAA spokesperson.

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