If you haven’t heard, the RIAA recently accused Joel Tenenbaum, a graduate student at Boston University, of downloading seven copyrighted songs when he was a teenager. Such extortion notices aren’t necessarily novel, but what is unique is that Tenenbaum decided to fight back and is represented by professor Charles Nesson and the students in his “CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion” course at Harvard University.
Not bad representation, especially since Nesson founded the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and has been an outspoken critic of the insidious threat RIAA’s preying upon universities and colleges poses to the mission of sharing that is at the core of educational institutions. Nesson had this to say in an op-ed titled “Protect Harvard from the RIAA” published in the Crimson Tide on May 1, 2007:
Yet “new deterrence and education initiatives” from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) threaten access to this vibrant resource [the internet]. The RIAA has already requested that universities serve as conduits for more than 1,200 “pre-litigation letters.” Seeking to outsource its enforcement costs, the RIAA asks universities to point fingers at their students, to filter their Internet access, and to pass along notices of claimed copyright infringement.
But these responses distort the University’s educational mission. They impose financial and non-monetary costs, including compromised student privacy, limited access to genuine educational resources, and restricted opportunities for new creative expression.
Amen! That’s exactly what the RIAA is doing, using higher education as its unpaid muscle to scare this freshly minted population of adults, essentially putting the responsibility for playing the bad cop on universities (and more specifically IT departments) which breeds an ever-greater culture of criminality and fear when it comes to the internet as tool for sharing and re-imagining the possibilities for teaching and learning in the 21st century. So, the RIAA is not only attacking their customers, but is one of the greatest enemies of education in the US and abroad. Their tactics deter, if not outright prevent, institutions from innovating with online publishing for fear of questions and uncertainties surrounding the legality of sharing resources online—and the moribund state of educational fair use as a concept, no less a strategy for fighting back. The RIAA are a lobbying band of capitalist vampires that are sucking the lifeblood from web-based educational culture, and the logic of controlling access and preventing sharing that fear breeds keeps outdated and irrelevant learning software like BlackBoard on-campus, which costs universities an exorbitant amount and is basically useless in our moment…yet, I digress.
So, Joel Tenenbaum’s case has been shaping up since October 2008, and I just got the following news release suggesting that the RIAA is targeting Joel’s parents now:
HARVARD PROFESSOR & STUDENTS FIGHT THE RIAA:
COME TO RHODE ISLAND FEDERAL COURT
TO PROTECT DEFENDANT’S FAMILY
Now it’s his parents. Who’s next?
Cambridge, MA (December 2008) – At a Dec. 15 hearing in Rhode Island federal court, Harvard Law School Professor Charles Nesson and his team of students will defend Rhode Island residents Arthur and Judie Tenenbaum from the full might of the U.S. recording industry’s combined lobbying and litigating power. The Tenenbaums face legal pressure from the industry’s lawsuit against their son, Joel, a graduate student at Boston University accused of sharing music files online.
Nesson and his team allege that the Recording Industry Association of America and a coalition of record companies are abusing the federal court system with their litigation tactics, which attempt to make an example out of Joel and his family in the name of “deterrence.” Joel faces possible damages of more than $1 million for allegedly sharing seven songs on the Kazaa file-sharing network.
The Dec. 15 hearing will 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.
“The basic rules of evidence suggest that this invasion of privacy is both unnecessary and absurd,” said Matt Sanchez, one of Nesson’s students working on the case. “This hearing isn’t only about Joel’s parents. It’s also about finally putting up a fight against the recording industry’s intimidation practices.”
The hearing is scheduled for December 15 at 10:00 AM at the Federal Building and Courthouse, One Exchange Terrace, Providence, RI 02903 in Courtroom A, before Magistrate Judge Lincoln D. Almond. Interviews will be available with Charles Nesson and his students immediately following the hearing.
For more information, please visit: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/cyberone/riaa/.
Looks like the battle has begun, and while I think their defense is interesting, I would actually modify one thing: they are not simply “abusing the federal court system with their litigation tactics”–they’re abusing and denaturing the mission of higher education as well.
And another thing, why the hell is there only one professor and his students going this alone? Where are all the other institutions that have everything to gain from them winning this case? Who else is lending a hand? The role of colleges and universities as RIAA’s pitbull is in the balance, don’t they want to free of their abusive corporate owners?