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Boston Illegal: Will the RIAA finally get what it deserves?

Did you hear that? A long low howl from the depths of despair. Yes, it’s the sound of the record companies sinking ever further into the tar pits. And, strangely, it seems to be coming from the general direction of Providence, Rhode Island.

That’s the jurisdiction of RIAA v. Joel Tenenbaum, a case being heard in Rhode Island Federal Court.

The RIAA is seeking damages from Boston University grad student Tenenbaum of $1 million for allegedly downloading seven songs from the Kazaa network (at $160K per, they must be pretty good songs). There are several unusual aspects to this case, not the least of which being who’s defending Tenenbaum and his parents, Arthur and Judie: Harvard Law School.

Professor Charles R. Nesson and students enrolled in Harvard Law’s CyberOne program have taken on the defense. In an attempt to stem the abuse of the legal system by the recording industry, they’ve counter-sued Sony BMG Music, Capitol Records, and the trade group everyone loves to hate.

As I type this, a hearing is underway to

… address the recording industry’s motion to force Arthur and Judie to produce their home computer so that it can be inspected for evidence of copyright infringement. The computer is not the device on which the alleged downloading took place, and Arthur and Judie did not own the computer when Joel lived with them.

According to the CyberOne blog, the RIAA is doing this

… not for the purpose of recovering compensation for actual damage caused by Joel’s individual action, nor for the primary purpose of deterring him from further copyright infringement, but for the ulterior purpose of creating an urban legend so frightening to children using computers, and so frightening to parents and teachers of students using computers, that they will somehow reverse the tide of the digital future.

Sounds about right. The CyberOne folks are also trying to win in the court of public opinion, and have started a Facebook group called “Joel Fights Back” that now boasts around 1100 members.

This case is about more than whether Tenenbaum swapped files online or the culpability of his parents. It’s essentially Harvard Law picking a fight with the RIAA to demonstrate that its legal actions are unconstitutional. All I can say is, Go Crimson!

Alan Wexelblat of the Corante law blog notes that

RIAA v. Joel Tenenbaum may become the Cartel’s English Channel. [I think he means their “Dunkirk” — dt.] As you’d expect, Nesson isn’t just trying to defend one student. He’s attacking the foundations of the RIAA’s entire campaign, as well as the constitutionality of the laws on which it is based. He’s filed counterclaims, and is seeking to have the RIAA itself named as a defendant….. But we’re still at the very earliest stages yet. My guess is that the RIAA will drop its case against Tenenbaum and attempt to get the counter suit mooted rather than try to defend on the merits.

Let’s hope Wexelblat’s guess is wrong and the RIAA fights this one to its own extinction. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving group of reptiles.

Oh, what the heck, let’s just vent. Tell me what you think about the RIAA, file swapping, and legal abuse below, or email me direct: dan (at) dantynan (dot) com. I’ll highlight the funniest and/or most venomous ones in a future blog post.

This post originally appeared on Infoworld’s Notes From the Field blog.

Mammoth sinking into the tar pits image courtesy of the Houston Chronicle’s SciGuy blog.

2 Responses to “Boston Illegal: Will the RIAA finally get what it deserves?”

  1. on 16 Dec 2008 at 6:42 am DrWex

    Hey, thanks for the reference and quotation! A couple of notes if I may:

    Corante hosts a number of blogs, including Copyfight. Some of the other blogs are run by actual lawyers – I’m not one. So I’m not fully comfortable calling Copyfight a “law blog”. Much of what I do is try to understand the law from an educated layman’s point of view.

    As to the reference to the Channel – that was deliberate. If you recall, the Armada sailed into the channel confident of its superior firepower and suddenly found itself under attack. Much like the RIAA finds itself under attack now.

    I’ve also read that Hitler didn’t pursue the English Army across the Channel after Dunkirk because he feared a repetition of that disaster. Instead he chose to pursue an air war, with the results we all know.

  2. on 16 Dec 2008 at 6:55 am dan tynan

    ah, thanks for the clarifications. I appreciate that.

    also thanks for the historical references. I was thinking 1940, not 1588.