Digital Music Pirates

Posted in Uncategorized by coda on October 25, 2009

“They’re like caged animals!” Joel Tenenbaum exclaimed to me, describing the attorneys representing the four major record labels who had brought a lawsuit against him. The lawyers in question could be heard just then enjoying a rousing game of poker in a back conference room. “They slink around the courtroom, always prepared to attack, and they never give you eye contact!”

The outburst was a rare flicker of animosity in an otherwise lighthearted conversation about keg parties, girlfriends, and courtroom hijinks. Fourth-year Harvard JD-MBA student Debbie Rosenbaum, who was assisting with Tenenbaum’s defense and occasionally serving as his ad hoc PR manager, made a quip about having had to flirt with a court marshal to get her Blackberry in. “A guy could never pull that off,” Tenenbaum retorted. “Did you tell him you’re into handcuffs?”

Tenenbaum was cracking a lot of jokes, after each of which he would flash a broad, close-lipped smile that lit up his entire face. Such incessant cheer made it hard to register that we were in courtroom two of Boston’s Joe Moakley Federal Courthouse, awaiting a verdict that was all but guaranteed to bankrupt the 25-year old Physics PhD candidate.

Tenenbaum was being sued for illegally downloading and sharing copyrighted songs. Roughly 35,000 similar lawsuits have been filed by the recording industry since 2003, but since most defendants end up settling for a few thousand dollars, Tenenbaum’s case is only the second to have made it to a jury trial.

The attorneys representing the record labels alleged that he downloaded and shared more than 800 songs, although he was only being sued for the 30 songs they could most convincingly prove he downloaded. They had offered to settle with him on multiple occasions—initially for $3,500—but the two parties never came to terms, and Tenenbaum opted instead to fight the charges.


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