O.K. Corral time for the RIAA

For years now we; as consumers, have been abused by the RIAA in their fight to make every consumer a criminal and to protect the financial interests of the recording industry – not the artists. Sure we have heard about the occasional court case where some judge has slapped them around a little for their tactics in suing grandmothers, students and single moms but nothing has really been done to put up a good solid legal fight against the RIAA.

So they have been pretty well allowed to act with impunity with SWAT like tactics in high PR arrests as well as the blackmailing of universities into acting as their personal snitches. All that could change however if the RIAA v. Joel Tenenbaum case makes it to the courtroom. Now the Tenenbaum Case; as it has become known as, essentially boils down to the RIAA bring suit again Joel for alleged acts of downloading seven songs from a P2P network when he was a minor.

Joel; rather that acquiescing to the RIAA threats, has gone on the offensive against the RIAA

Joel challenges the constitutionality of the process and statute being wielded against him. The “Digital Theft Deterrence Act of 1999” is essentially a criminal statute, punitively deterrent in its every substantive aspect.

Joel seeks damages to compensate for the actual damage RIAA has done to him and his family. He claims the right to trial by jury including the right to offer proof and argument to the jury about what is right and what is wrong on both sides of this case. In the face of the onslaught the plaintiffs have imposed and are continuing to impose upon him he seeks justice from both judge and jury. At core his defenses and counterclaim raise a profoundly conceptual question: Is the law just the grind of a statutory machine to be carried out by judge and jury as cogs in the machine, or do judge and jury claim the right and duty and power of constitution and conscience to do justice.

Up until recently Joel has been fighting this legal battle on his own but according to Mike Masnick the playing field has changed dramatically. No longer is Joel fighting this battle on his own as his case has been taken up by Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson.

The basis of Professor Nesson’s argument is that the laws the RIAA are using as grounds for their lawsuits are unconstitutional. To help him with this argument he is calling on a long star studded list of people to confront the legality of the RIAA arguments. This list includes

  • John Perry Barlow (former songwriter for The Grateful Dead, founder of the EFF, and well known digital thinker)
  • Prof. Johan Pouwelse (technical and scientific director of European research project P2P-Next)
  • Prof. Lawrence Lessig (needs no introduction, I imagine, for folks around here)
  • Matthew Oppenheim (who has a somewhat murky relationship with the RIAA, at times representing the RIAA, and at other times insisting he does not represent the RIAA)
  • Prof. Terry Fisher (a director of Harvard’s Berkman Center and author of Promises to Keep, an early book looking at how the internet was changing the entertainment industry, and how it’s business models need to change)
  • Prof. Wendy Seltzer (well known copyfighter, law professor, former staff attorney at the EFF and founder of the Chilling Effects site)
  • Prof. John Palfrey (Harvard law professor, co-director of the Berkman Center, author of Born Digital)
  • Prof. Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard and Oxford law professor, co-director of the Berkman Center, author of The Future of the Internet)
  • Andrew Grant (former antipiracy specialist at DRM company Macrovision)

I once joking wrote on my personal blog WinExtra about how 2008 could be the death knell for the RIAA; but as we near the end of the year we can see how I was wrong. Whether I was wrong about only the date and if in fact we could see the demise of the RIAA anytime soon is all the more interesting considering the guns coming into this fight of 2009 against the RIAA.

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