As everyone in the copyright law community knows by now, Harvard Law School Professor Charles Nesson, and a team of HLS students, are defending Joel Tenenbaum in an RIAA action. Nesson’s primary argument is that the copyright statute’s statutory (aka punitive) damages of as much as $150,000 per infringement is unconstitutional, least as applied to Tenenbaum who downloaded seven songs for personal use, not profit. Over $1 million in damages ($150,000 x 7) seems a bit much for such a violation, and Nesson argues that punitive damages of this magnitiude are unconstitutional.
Nesson is courteously interviewed by Professor Doug Lichtman on the Intellectual Property Colloquium podcast here.
Apart from the legal issue raised by Professor Nesson, this case has a great deal of humor in it, not the least of which is that Nesson and company are defending Joel Tenenbaum. This is kind of like picking on a little kid on the playground, who then shows up with The Hulk, who just happens to be his big brother and refuses to go away until he’s fought the bully to the death. Oh, and Nesson’s team is “immortal” for all practical purposes – I suspect there’s nothing that Nesson would like more than to take the constitutional challenge to the Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court. I doubt that the RIAA ever expected this, but they can’t exactly back down at this point. I hope to write about this case it in more detail in a future post, and highlight some of the bizarre turns the case has taken with Nesson guiding Tenenbaum’s defense.
A great blog that is following this case in more detail than I could ever have thought possible is Ben Sheffner’s Copyrights and Campaigns.
The Boston Globe reports that U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner has stayed last week’s decision allowing a motion hearng in the Tenenbaum music downloading case to be “narrowcast” on the Internet, pending an appeal to the First Circuit by the RIAA. Apparently, the RIAA feels strongly enough about this issue to ask for immediate appellate review, and Judge Gertner agreed to keep cameras out of court, at least for the moment.
My take? Cameras in the courtroom should be within the discretion of the judge, who exercises control over that courtroom, and the First Circuit should deny the RIAA’s appeal. The more that the public sees what goes on in our federal courts, the better for our judicial system.
Some interesting goings on on the copyright front in D. Mass. are worth a brief mention.
First, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner has ruled that proceedings in the RIAA’s case against Joel Tenenbaum, alleging illegal downloading, may be “webcast” by the Berkman Center. Whether the actual trial will be webcast is undecided as yet, but upcoming in-court motions will be. The audio-visual will be streamed live by the Berkman Center at no charge to viewers. Tune in on January 22nd to see the circus. [Update: the First Circuit held that the trial could not be webcast].
I find the following quote from the decision to be quite humorous:
In many ways, this case is about the so-called Internet Generation — the generation that has grown up with computer technology in general, and the Internet in particular, as commonplace. It is reportedly a generation that does not read newspapers or watch the evening news, but gets its information largely, if not almost exclusively, over the Internet. . . Consistent with the nature of these file-sharing cases, and the identity of so many of the Defendants, this case is one that has already garnered substantial attention on the Internet.
While the Plaintiffs object to the narrowcasting of this proceeding, . . . their objections are curious. At previous hearings and status conferences, the Plaintiffs have represented that they initiated these lawsuits not because they believe they will identify every person illegally downloading copyrighted material. Rather, they believe that the lawsuits will deter the Defendants and the wider public from engaging in illegal file-sharing activities. Their strategy effectively relies on the publicity resulting from this litigation.
Meanwhile, in the Gatehouse Media copyright case against the New York Times, Gatehouse has filed an unopposed motion, asking Judge Young to rule on whether the court has jurisdiction before the copyright registrations for the material in dispute have been issued by the Copyright Office. This is a frequent controversy, and one of interest to copyright lawyers representing plaintiffs whose unregistered works are the subject of infringement – may they proceed with suit, and perhaps a preliminary injunction, or are they bound to wait for the registrations to issue? Apparently, this issue was of enough concern to Gatehouse Media that it filed this brief, collecting and arguing the legal precedents on this issue.