Joel Tenenbaum admits downloading music, found guilty of copyright infringement

Thursday was a far more lively day in the Joel Tenenbaum copyright infringement case, as the defendant admitted that he had downloaded -- and that he had not been forthright in his written discovery responses about having done so. Mr. Tenenbaum also took responsibility for uploading and downloading from multiple peer-to-peer services, confirmed that he'd listened to all 30 now-no-longer-contested songs (nuking his own legal team's earlier assertion that some of the 30 might have been spoofed files), and suggested that his mom -- a lawyer -- might have given him some shaky advice on how to answer RIAA fact-finding efforts.

It was, in other words, defeat-- defeat to such a degree that the Joel Fights Back group blog run by the defense team is currently headed by a post titled "Joel FOUGHT back." In that post, Debbie Rosenbaum, one of the students who stuck with the case to its bitter end, writes that "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."

Judge Nancy Gertner, considering a motion from the plaintiffs for a directed verdict in their favor (since, hey, the guy just admitted it), ruled that the jury will no longer be faced with debating whether Mr. Tenenbaum infringed the copyrights.

Instead, when the jury gets the case mid-morning on Friday -- the defense plans to call a computer scientist and Mr. Tenenbaum's mother, who might face some interesting questions about advice she might have given her boy -- they'll be looking at liability and willfulness, the two issues that will dictate the amount of damages to be awarded.

If there was any portion of Mr. Tenenbaum's testimony that didn't harm him today, it might be his expressed fondness for the artists whose music he shared, and his original perception of Napster as essentially a "giant library in front of you with all sorts of songs... It's all up there... It's like the Google of music." The legality of peer-to-peer sharing, he noted, "wasn't foremost in [his] mind" then.

His mental state might actually matter here. Though the defense team had hoped to instruct the jury to consider whether Mr. Tenenbaum meant to profit commercially by his actions, Judge Gertner will instruct the five men and five women to consider willful infringement that which is "committed with knowledge of or 'reckless disregard' for the plaintiffs' copyrights." It's not much to pin one's hopes to after a yearlong legal effort, but it's the difference between the minimum ($750/song) and maximum ($150,000/song) awards levels for damages -- but after Thursday's testimony, it's just about all Mr. Tenenbaum has left.

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