Illegal Downloads Follow Teen Into Adulthood, Court

A federal court in Massachusetts has upheld a $675,000 penalty against a Boston University graduate student for downloading 31 pirated songs online as a teenager. The recording industry says Joel Tenebaum was downloading and distributing thousand of songs and wouldn't stop even after warnings from his father, his college and a cease and desist letter from Sony.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In New Hampshire's neighbor, Massachusetts, a federal district court upheld a $675,000 penalty against a Boston University grad student. The student admitted to downloading 31 pirated songs online as a teenager. And the very expensive downloads are today's last word in business.

Let's download the story from NPR's Steve Henn.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KILLING ME SOFTLY")

THE FUGEES: Yeah...

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: If you want to listen to the song "Killing Me Softly" by the Fugees, it'll cost you $1.29 on iTunes. But for Joel Tenenbaum, "Killing Me Softly" is going to cost a little bit more - $21,000. That because this song was one of 31 he put on an illegal, pirated playlist back in 2003.

Since then, Tenenbaum has gone to college, graduate school and wrote a Ph.D. dissertation in physics. But his youthful indiscretion has followed him into adulthood. The recording industry sued, won big, and last week a federal judge ruled the verdict will stand.

ERIC GOLDMAN: There is a very low chance that the recording industry will see any money.

HENN: Eric Goldman teaches law at Santa Clara University. He says the reason the recording industry won't see any cash is simple: Tenenbaum doesn't have it.

But the industry says this suit was always about more than money. They say Tenenbaum was downloading and distributing thousand of songs - and wouldn't stop, even after warnings from his father, his college and a cease and desist letter from Sony. And now, this student and music fan could be facing personal bankruptcy.

Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOSER")

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That's the business news on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene.

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