Updated March 24 at 8:42am
Focus: LAW

Illegal tunes no music to his ears


Joel Tenenbaum just received his doctorate at Boston University, where he’ll start teaching statistics courses to MBA students this fall.

His post-graduate work took six years to complete. Before that, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Goucher College in Maryland. He’s been in school his entire adult life and throughout it all there’s been one constant: having his name associated with illegal downloading of music files.

“I just got my doctorate and I’m defending my actions as a teenager,” Tenenbaum said. “This isn’t my normal life. If you were to read news articles, you’d think I’m an activist of some sort. My primary amount of time is spent [on work] and spending time with family and friends. I try to focus [on that].”

Tenenbaum, 28, has been defending since he was approximately 19 his admitted illegal downloading of music files on the Internet for which he has been ordered to pay Sony BMG Music Entertainment $675,000 in damages – an amount he says he simply can’t afford and that was recently upheld when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.

“I think there’s a lurking question here,” said Colleen Murphy, a professor of law at the Roger Williams University School of Law. “You know, [it’s] sort of contrary to [the] ordinary [where] juries stick up for the little guy. [The jury] in [this case sided] in favor of the big record companies, which is sort of an interesting twist.”

The lurking question, Murphy said, is whether Tenenbaum actually will end up paying the fines.

His case began in 2003 when, amid a Recording Industry Association of America crackdown on file-sharing on college campuses, he was served with a pre-litigation letter that in the early to mid-2000s many others like him, including a dozen students at Brown University in Providence, received.

The letter stated the association had found Tenenbaum, through IP address tracking, had stolen copyrighted artist material by downloading songs through free file-sharing websites.

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