HLS Professor Challenges the Constitutionality of RIAA File-sharing Lawsuits

Joel Tenenbaum, a graduate student from Harvard, is just one of the random assortment of individuals being sued for sharing music via peer-to-peer application.

For Harvard professor Charles Nesson this lawsuit was the last straw. He is defending Tenenbaum, and has filed a counterclaim against the specific plaintiff and against the RIAA, challenging the constitutionality of the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999, upon which the suit was filed.

This act is one of several legslative initiatives designed to provide a stronger protection to copyright owners in the digital age. Nesson claims the act has basically made the courts “a low-grade collection agency” for the RIAA. Suits are being brought randomly, singling out few out of the many Americans who use peer-to-peer networks, and seeking to punish them beyond any relation to the damage that they have allegedly caused. Many of these suits lead in fact to significant results for the RIAA in outside the court settlements, only because their targets do not have the resources to defend themselves in court.

Prof. Nesson’s ultimate goal is to drive the music industry to find new ways of distributing music in the digital age and encourage the legalization of the phenomenon of sharing of music on-line.

This is not the first attempt to render copyright legislation excessive and unconstitutional, so expectations should be reduced for Prof. Nesson. However, questioning the RIAA strategy may have the power to drive a change in the arena of on-line music consumption.

Read more:
Eon (Charles Nesson’s blog): The Copyright Theft Deterrance Act of 1999
Computerworld: Harvard professor offers new challenge to RIAA antipiracy campaign