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Author: Nicholas Ortiz, Boston Bankruptcy Attorney

23 May Would Joel Tennenbaum’s Napster Fine be Dischargeable in Bankruptcy?

Yesterday, May 22, 2012, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the large damage award levied against Boston University student Joel Tennenbaum for downloading and sharing 30 songs on Napster. Wikipedia's summary of the case can be read here. First of all, this post is in the nature of a thought experiment; it is not legal advice for Mr. Tennenbaum nor anyone else. However, as a bankruptcy lawyer, the problem piqued my interest. The damage award against Mr. Tennenbaum for copyright infringement totaled $675,000 and, at the time, Mr. Tennenbaum was only an undergraduate student doing what tens of thousands of other college students had been doing at the time--using illegal file-sharing services to download and distribute music. As the jury found in Mr. Tennenbaum's case, these actions, despite their rampant popularity, violated federal copyright laws and, among other things, vested the music-industry plaintiff with the right to recover sizable statutory damages. Statutory damages under copyright laws are, for each act of infringement, $750 to $30,000 for non-willful infringements, and a range of $750 to $150,000 for willful infringements. In Mr. Tennenbaum's case, the jury was convinced to award damages of $22,500 for each infringement, for a total of $675,000. While Mr. Tennenbaum received a doctorate in statistical physics last week, he quite-understandably claims not to have the free cash to pay the judgment. So, could he file bankruptcy and discharge the judgment?
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