RIAA Hearing Live Tomorrow - POSTPONED

20 January 2009

--I had this nice little post written about tomorrow's first-ever internet broadcasting of a US Federal Court hearing.  Then, yesterday, the Judge granted a stay.  The new hearing is scheduled for Feb. 24th. I've decided to go ahead with a post about the case, for those who might not be familiar with it yet. --


Judge Nancy Getner authorized the internet broadcasting of a pre-trial oral arguments in the Sony BMG Music v. Tenenbaum case (aka Joel Fights Back), originally scheduled for Thursday.   Her order suggested the streaming itself be done by Courtroom Live.   The Berkman Center at Harvard Law planned to rebroadcast the hearings live under a cc license.  The RIAA moved for a stay on the pre-trial hearing until the 1st Circuit can hear their appeal on the internet in the courtroom.  Judge Getner granted the stay Wednesday.

The Case

The RIAA is suing a 24 year old graduate student from Boston.  They allege he illegally downloaded and shared [edited] seven songs, nearly seven years ago.  Damages claimed: $1,000,000+.

Joel first received his "settle-or-else" letter in 2003.  The RIAA wanted $3,500.  He offered $500.  They refused.  Years later, in 2007, the RIAA finally dragged him into court.  Joel decided to fight back, pro se.  Judge Getner didn't like how crooked Lady Justice looked trying to hold up such an unbalanced scale and ensured that Joel received pro bono legal services.  (transcript)

Joel's pro bono legal counsel consists of Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson and a team of Harvard Law students.  The team distributes news about the case in a multitude of ways, including via their webpage, a the class blog and Twitter.  The actual trial is currently set for March 30, 2009.

The rescheduled hearing is pre-trial oral arguments.  The Defendants are arguing for the RIAA's allegations to be dismissed.

Access to the case's documents can be found on the Recording Industry v. The People blog.

The RIAA's Opposition to the Streaming

The RIAA has tried a lot of tactics and arguments to prevent the streaming of the hearing.  First, they claimed that the Judge doesn't have the authority to allow cameras in the courtroom.  (Then who does?!)  After the Judge ruled to allow the internet streaming, the RIAA filed an appeal asking the First Circuit to stay Judge Getner's decision.  [There are questions as to whether this type of appeal (to an interlocutory order) is even allowed.]  More information on the RIAA's desperation can be found here.

In addition to the appeal, the RIAA also moved for a stay of the pre-hearing, ideally to get the First Circuit to say the hearings cannot be broadcast on the internet before they happen.  Judge Getner agreed that the First Circuit should hear the appeal before the hearings proceed.

"...there is no emergency related to the hearing originally slated for January 22, 2009...postponing the hearing will allow the First Circuit an opportunity to fully consider the petition before it, particularly because a number of claims presented in the petition for mandamus were never raised in their current form in the district court."

The Judge's Position on the Streaming

Judge Getner called the RIAA's position "curious" because it seems counterintuitive to their professed aim of trying to educate the public about the evils of downloading.

"they [RIAA/Plaintiffs] believe that the lawsuits will deter the Defendants and the wider public from engaging in illegal file-sharing activities. Their strategy effectively relies on the publicity resulting from this litigation."

"The public benefit of offering a more complete view of these proceedings is plain, especially via a medium so carefully attuned to the Internet Generation captivated by these filesharing lawsuits."

Presentation About Case by Harvard Law Team Member

Comments

2 Responses to “RIAA Hearing Live Tomorrow - POSTPONED”
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Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I think you may have misstated this case. The RIAA never sues for downloading. I believe he was sued because he was sharing songs. A download is only one copyright violation, and it's not clear to me that the RIAA would know where he obtained the songs. But they can tell when someone is offering uploads of songs in their shared folder, and it doesn't matter if the song was legally purchased or illegally downloaded in that situation. When one shares a song, the number of downloads of that one "upload" are limitless. It is a huge difference from an infringement standpoint.

January 21, 2009 at 7:24:00 AM PST
goldenrail said...

Anon: Thanks for pointing that out. I was trying to simplify the language and make it more accessible to readers unfamiliar with the area, but you're right, it does make a big difference. I've edited the text above so that it now matches the story given on the Joel Fights Back website: http://joelfightsback.com/

Thank you for the comment.

January 21, 2009 at 8:11:00 AM PST