Today, the Harvard legal team representing Tenenbaum commented on the appeal pointing out that if the RIAA truly wants to educate people it should be embracing the narrowcast. The appeal really does beg the question: does the RIAA really want its voice heard by the masses?
A Bit of History
Joel Tenenbaum, a 25-year old graduate student at Boston University received a notice in 2003 accusing him of downloading seven songs via a P2P service. The notice asked for a settlement of $3,500, Tenenbaum offered $500; the offer was declined.
Four years later, Tenenbaum received a complaint to appear in court. He filed an answer with a counterclaim asserting abuse of federal power and that the excessive damages were unconstitutional. This time around, Tenenbaum offered to settle for $5,000 and again the offer was declined; opposing council was asking for $10,500.
Now the RIAA wants over one million dollars.
The Joel Fights Back Dream Team
Enter Professor Charles Nesson and his team of Harvard Law students, who last month filed a motion asking the judge to allow audio-visual coverage of the trial proceedings over the Internet. Last week, Judge Gertner granted the motion (PDF) stating:
"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." Additionally, Judge Gertner points out "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."
Yesterday, Torrent Freak pointed out that the RIAA is appealing (PDF) the motion, pointing to a statement by RIAA's Cara Duckworth: "While this might be an interesting academic exercise for the professor and his class, there's been real world consequences for those who create music."
The point Ms. Duckworth seems to be missing is that there is a real world consequence for those who want to listen to music as well. We can only hope the appeal will be denied and the Harvard Dream Team gets the opportunity to bring this significant trial to the Web.
Why This is ImportantTenenbaum's team rightly point out that this is not about about copyright law, but that the "extent of the damages this statute permits are unconstitutional and that the music industry is abusing federal power by using the court system capriciously."
The fines are hugely inappropriate. The Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 sets damages of $750 to $30,000 for each infringement, and as much as $150,000 for a willful violation. The Act is old. Particularly when you look at it from the fast paced lane of the Web; change is clearly needed.
The RIAA managed to score some points last month when it announced it would no longer target individuals and instead work more closely with ISPs to identify alleged copyright infringers. Unfortunately they also mentioned they would continue with cases already underway, and the Tenenbaum case falls into that category.
If the Internet feed goes ahead, it will be provided by the Courtroom View Network and streamed on the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School where it is scheduled to go live on Thursday Jan. 22 at 2 pm ET.
At the end of the day, it appears the RIAA has confused itself. If it is serious in wanting to educate the public on the business and legal issues facing the music industry - and copyright in general - it must get in front of the public and speak up; it cannot hide behind bureaucracy any longer. Living in the Internet age we know it's time that organizations with such antiquated ideologies catch up; problem is - when will they work it out?