Joel Tenenbaum outside federal court on Thursday in Boston. ((Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Associated Press))

A federal jury has ordered a Boston University graduate student who admitted illegally downloading and sharing music online to pay $675,000 to four record labels.

Joel Tenenbaum, of Providence, R.I., admitted in court that he downloaded and distributed 30 songs. The only issue for the jury to decide was how much in damages to award.

Under federal law, the recording companies were entitled to $750 to $30,000 per infringement. But the law allows as much as $150,000 per track if the jury finds the infringements were wilful. The maximum jurors could have awarded in Tenenbaum's case was $4.5 million.

Jurors ordered Tenenbaum late Friday to pay $22,500 for each incident of copyright infringement, effectively finding that his actions were wilful.

The attorney for the 25-year-old student had asked the jury earlier Friday to "send a message" to the music industry by awarding only minimal damages.

Plans to file for bankruptcy

Tenenbaum said he was thankful that the case wasn't in the millions and contrasted the significance of his fine with the maximum.

"That to me sends a message of, 'We considered your side with some legitimacy,"' he said, adding that "$4.5 million would have been, 'We don't buy it at all.'"

He said he will file for bankruptcy if the verdict stands.

Tenenbaum's lawyer, Harvard law school professor Charles Nesson, said the jury's verdict was not fair. He said he plans to appeal the decision because he was not allowed to argue a case based on fair use.

The Recording Industry Association of America issued a statement thanking the jury for recognizing the impact illegal downloading has on the music community.

"We appreciate that Mr. Tenenbaum finally acknowledged that artists and music companies deserve to be paid for their work," the statement said. "From the beginning, that's what this case has been all about. We only wish he had done so sooner rather than lie about his illegal behaviour."

Downloaded 800 songs

Tenenbaum would not say if he regretted downloading music, saying it was a loaded question.

"I don't regret drinking underage in college, even though I got busted a few times," he said.

Tenenbaum admitted on the witness stand that he had downloaded and shared more than 800 songs. He also revealed he had downloaded and shared hundreds of songs by Nirvana, Green Day, The Smashing Pumpkins and other artists. The recording industry focused on only 30 songs in the case.

The case is only the nation's second music downloading case against an individual to go to trial.

Last month, a federal jury in Minneapolis ruled that Jammie Thomas-Rasset, 32, must pay $1.92 million, or $80,000 on each of 24 songs, after concluding she wilfully violated the copyrights on those tunes.

After Tenenbaum admitted Thursday he is liable for damages for 30 songs at issue in the case, U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner ruled that the jury must consider only whether his copyright infringement was wilful and how much in damages to award.