RIAA v. Joel Tenenbaum

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Update (1/6/2009): Prof. Nesson and his students are going down to Rhode Island federal court today to protect Joel’s mother and father from having to surrender their personal computer (and the private information on it) from the RIAA’s hired guns. Learn more about it by reading our press release and following us on Twitter. More information as we get it!

Prof. Nesson and a crack team of CyberOne students is in the process of defending Joel Tenenbaum, a digital native, from the RIAA.

The below is excerpted from their defense of their counterclaim against the RIAA and the music companies that back it, and gives a pretty good idea of the stakes involved, and what Joel is up against.

We are in the process of building out the docket from the case for public scrutiny. View the motion to add the RIAA as a defendant in our counterclaim here, and the amendment to the counterclaim itself here.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is in the process of bringing to bear upon the defendant, Joel Tenenbaum, the full might of its lobbying influence and litigating power. Joel Tenenbaum was a teenager at the time of the alleged copyright infringements, in every way representative of his born-digital generation. The plaintiffs and the RIAA are seeking to punish him beyond any rational measure of the damage he allegedly caused. They do 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.

The plaintiffs in the suit and the RIAA are abusing law and this court’s civil process. Because Joel Tenenbaum allegedly downloaded seven songs from a file-sharing network comprised of millions of his peers doing likewise, the plaintiffs have already imposed upon him process filling a docket sheet running back over years. Representing himself pro se with help from his mother he has responded with constitutional defenses and a counterclaim against the plaintiffs and against the RIAA for their abuse of law and this court’s civil process.

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.


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