Like thousands of Americans, Joel Tenenbaum likely thought little about downloading music online and sharing it with friends.
But while the 25-year-old may just be "a kid who did what kids do" -- as his lawyer has said -- he is paying a hefty price for the 30 songs he downloaded as a teenager six years ago. The Boston University graduate student is on trial this week for copyright infringement and could face fines up to $1 million.
Tenenbaum is only the second American to be slapped with such a lawsuit. The first person to be sued by recording companies on these charges was a Minnesota woman in 2007. She was ordered to pay a whopping $1.92 million to the labels.
Her attorney said Jammie Thomas-Rasset did not have the money to settle the case and contends that she still doesn't have the money for the damages she's being asked to pay. She has asked the federal court for a new trial.
Tenebaum, of Providence, R.I., tried to settle the case for $5,000, but the offer was rejected, Debbie Rosenbaum, a spokeswoman for Tenebaum's lawyer Charles Nesson, told ABC News.
"Joel isn't asking to not be fined if found guilty of infringement. He is asking for a just resolution," Rosenbaum said.
So far more than 30,000 other file sharers have settled in recent years for amounts ranging from $3,000 to $12,000.
While the battle over the right to download and share copyrighted material is being fought in a Boston courtroom, a Congressional committee began today looking at what it fears may be even greater risks in file sharing to individuals' files and to national security, and possibly how to legislate it.
According to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in one instance, a list of all the master sergeants in the United States Army was made available through LimeWire, which included their names, Social Security numbers, military occupational specialty codes, and other private information.
In another instance, an employee for a billing company inadvertently released the medical files for thousands of patients of a Texas hospital. In yet another, a contractor inadvertently leaked sensitive information about the infrastructure of 32 cities in the United States, detailing the major assets that are vulnerable to explosive devices.
The committee is calling for more stringent federal regulation of P2P networks than under the previous administration. The Federal Trade Commission has done a review to see how companies are complying with standards lawmakers passed two years ago.
Peer-to-peer networks, or P2P in digital lingo, consist of computers connected to one another online through P2P software. Each computer acts as a server, from which network members can exchange files, particularly movies, music and other digital content. Popular P2P software includes Kazaa, which recently moved to a subscription-based model, and LimeWire, whose chairman Mark Gorton is testifying at the House committee hearing.
One danger lawmakers worry about with P2P networks is inadvertent file sharing, a scenario where a computer connected to the internet could potentially allow other computer users with similar software to easily search its hard drive and copy unprotected files.
Distributed Computing Industry Association chief executive Marty Lafferty says file sharing is difficult to legislate because technology changes so quickly, and there's a fear of "unintended consequences."