Harvard Law School vs. RIAA …Fight!!

A team from Harvard Law School will square off against the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) today in a Rhode Island Federal Court, according to a Harvard Law press release.

Prof. Charles Nesson (left) and a group of law students have taken up the case of Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston University grad student targeted by the RIAA. Alleging that Joel file-shared seven songs as a teenager, the RIAA is seeking more than one million dollars from Tenenbaum family. Odly enough, if the same music was purchased on iTunes, the total value would be all of $6.93.

Matt Sanchez, one of law students assisting Prof. Nesson, said:

The basic rules of evidence suggest that this invasion of privacy is both unnecessary and absurd. 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.

An except from a case document filed by the Harvard team explains their position:

The [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

Check out Harvard Law’s CyberOne blog for more info. There is also a Facebook group in support of Joel Tenenbaum.

GP: While not a video game story, Harvard Law’s legal battle against the RIAA’s IP ham-handed enforcement tactics have implications for game consumers as well.

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  1. Hellfire says:

    I was interested in how capable a person is of costing the RIAA $1,000,000 in losses so I thought it would be interesting to calculate. I made a few assumptions which I spelled out.

    I measured my upload speed on Speedtest.net and found 472kbps.

    472kilobits per second = .0576Megabytes per second

    there are 86400 seconds per day thus .0576MBps * 86400s = 4977MB/day.

    It is important to note that this figure means 100% of your bandwidth is saturated with filesharing and that it does not include TCP or any other protocol overhead.

    I took a look at my music files (mp3s only) and decided on 6MB for the average mp3 size.

    4977MB/day / 6MB = 830songs per day

    this is 24900 songs per month (averaging a 30 day month)

    now take your standard $0.99 cent song to get: $24651/mo. Important to note here that the profit they make on a $0.99 song is nowhere near $0.99. If sold on iTunes, the net profit is sliced up between several parties including Apple.

    $1,000,000 lawsuit / $24651/mo = 40.566 months

    40.566 months / 12 mo per year = 3.38 years

    Thus, with my bandwidth saturated with no protocol overhead sharing a 6MB song which the RIAA makes 100% of a 99 cent sale it would take 3.38 years for them to lose $1,000,000.

  2. Baruch_S says:

    I really hope this gets dragged all the way to the Supreme Court. If the guys from Harvard can convince the Supreme Court that the law the RIAA is using is unconstitutional, they’ll strike a significant blow to the RIAA and other groups that want to extort obscene amounts of money from people for $10 of illegally downloaded material. Now all we need is for a DRM case to get to the Supreme Court so they can slap game companies around for renting us their products.

  3. nighstalker160 says:

    Saw this coming a while ago.

    The RIAA has refrained from sending letters to Harvard Students because early on in this campaign Harvard Law School came out and said they disagreed and threatened to represent, bro bono, any Harvard student subject to the "illegal and unconstitutional" (as they put it) bullying tactics of the RIAA.

    Guess the law school guys finally got fed up and decided to start helping students outside Harvard.

    The Harvard guys have GREAT arguments and are obviously brilliant attorneys. The RIAA is in for a real fight, one they are likely to lose.

    This was only a matter of time. The RIAA has relied on going after people who can’t afford the legal fight (college students, working single mothers, grandmothers) etc. This is really the first time they’re facing serious, well thought out, hardcore opposition.

    It should be interesting to see how well their legal arguments stand up against the folks from Harvard.

    I certianly don’t think Harvard Law is all its cracked up to be (they don’t train you to be a litigator, they train you to be a legal theorist). But there’s no denying the qualifications of the faculty.

  4. ZippyDSMlee says:

    Scare tatics and bullying…..soemone needs to put the media conglomerants back in thier palce as CP/IP pushers and not fcking mobsters….
    Pirates,Shearers,Lenders and downloaders are not a market that can be taped by the mainstream.
    I is fuzzy brained mew =^^=

  5. topher says:

    This is a great counterclaim.  They are attacking the very heart of the monster.  They are claiming that the The Digital Theft Deterrence Act makes digital copyright theft (filing sharing) a criminal act, a means of punitive measures and deterance.  The RIAA is using this law for civil suits, meant to compensate damages. 

    "Nesson argues that the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 is unconstitutional because it effectively lets a private group — the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA — carry out civil enforcement of a criminal law. He also says the music industry group abused the legal process by brandishing the prospects of lengthy and costly lawsuits in an effort to intimidate people into settling cases out of court."


    Ask not for whom the bell tolls.  It tolls for the RIAA.

  6. Maxpower says:

    So the RIAA is run by Dr. Evil? All I picture is him sitting there in his chair, with the hairless cat saying "I will sue you…for ONE MILLION DOLLARS!"

    "It could have been, should have been worse than you would ever know"

  7. jimolejniczak says:

    Excellent news article. RIAA realize it can no longer pick up single moms or people who are ignorant of the law. Harvard Law vs RIAA – I think I can smell the winner (or is it the loser?) in this one.

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  8. Archgabe says:

    Working on the overthrowing.  It takes time to take down something that is evil and corporate.  It also takes money.  Seeing as I have nither, being a poor college student, I will just have to settle for giving them the evil eye and root for/support the people who have a better chance at exposing the RIAA and DMCA for the darkest reaches of human greed that spawned them.

  9. topher says:

    Wow.  I feel horrible for the kid right now.  If I had $50 to spare Id send it to his family with the message "Give em Hell, Joel"

    Gaming or not, this is huge for the electronic generation.  I feel this has less to do with the rights of Musicians and more with the RIAA creating a boogyman persona for the younger half of our generation.  I feel this will get thrown out eventually as, based on Wikipedia, Im pretty sure a NY Federal Circuit court claimed $150,000 damages were too excessive since the losses are pennys per song.  The RIAA’s responce.  "Well we cant strike fear with suing for $0.50"

    Why hasnt our generation formed a real movement to overturn the RIAA and the DMCA?

  10. Meggie says:

    Exactly. Legality of file-sharing aside, one MILLION for a small-time sharer is nothing short of robbery. Even if he somehow managed to download gigs and gigs of songs, one million is still excessive.

    This statement I think sums up their tactics rather clearly…

    …but for the ulterior purpose of creating an urban legend so frightening to children using computers…

  11. Arell says:

    I hope Joel wins.  Not because I think file-sharing is ok, but because the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.  Cruel and unusual, though I suppose suing people these days is always like that.  And you can’t bring the punishment intended to embody the entire file-sharing community onto one little family.

    At most, I could accept them trying to procure $1,000 for "damages."  Any more than that is just being dick-ish.  And while that wouldn’t even cover the court costs, it could set a presidence which could be used to speed up future actions.

  12. shady8x says:

    With the new ip law in place, every game is also a collection of the songs in it…

    So a pirate that steals one game could be sued for a million dollars or more cause some games have more than 6 songs in them…

  13. JC says:

    Very big case. I’m surprised he’s representing himself and I wonder how this case will turn out. I somewhat disagree with the simularities to games though. The only simularity factor I can find is the anti-consumer push from the ESA but this is a case of alleged infringement which doesn’t get pushed as often by the ESA unless it involves mod-chips. Before you bring up the Activision lawsuits, note yourself that is Activision, who is not a member of the ESA currently. >_>

    IP cases like this are going to be more common in the future though. "Oh, we found out that you downloaded 50 songs at this time with your ISP of xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx and since you’re very successful, you can obviously pay the fines now and we’ll be on our way."


  14. DeepThorn says:

    These bastards are insane…  Sueing for $10 per song would be one thing, but $1 mil for 6 is insane.  They are just trying to make up the cost of their lawyers for cases they have lost and for having the worthless blood suckers around.  Industries need to get used to piracy.  The record industry is really getting sour because the intellegent artists are going online and skipping the publishers all together. 

    You don’t need a publisher in this world, as a game developer or a musician.  Will a publisher help some?  Yes, but they take too much money to make up for it.  You can sell your songs for that much less without them, or for slightly below normal price and use those profits to hire your own team of people to do the same crap that they are suppose to do for you.

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  15. BrandonL337 says:

    What The Fuck, one million dollars

    that is way to much, they are going to ruin this kid and his parents lives they are going to have to sell their house, their cars, anything and everything they own just to pay off half of that.

    I’m calling it right now the RIAA is evil and their sole purpose is to ruin the lives of innocent people.  My sig is really appropriat for this story

    There have always been motherf*ckers, there will always be motherf*ckers, but what we can’t do is let them control our motherf*cking lives. -John Oliver, December 1st, 2008

  16. JC says:

    Out of all the settlement money, none of it goes back to the musicians. They claim there’s not much left to give back, but who knows. The fact is, they gain more money that isn’t entitled to the musicians, it is actually a business practice for them to continue this since they can pile on suits until people crack to give money. It is pure extortion since they know that many victims of this practice can’t afford to spend the time and money in court to fight it.

    Basically, they found a way to get more money out of musicians and can get out of paying them their part of the contracts since the RIAA hold the copyrights and they can argue they are the ones "protecting" their copyright and thus deserve all that money. They rarely have to attempt to produce damages, most cases don’t get to court.

  17. catboy_j says:

    I’ve always kind of wondered if they figure in things like upload capping, what their price per bits per second were that they get so high over so few songs, how they measure how many people you supposedly shared to, and how your digital copy that doesn’t remove the original damages them if you never intended to buy.

    And I don’t think much of this money goes to muscians does it?

    Plus this guy is well years past being a teenager now…

  18. Geoff says:

    One million dollars?  Seriously?  Yeah, that’s really going to win you public support RIAA.

    I don’t mind the idea of them sueing if there is a clear case of IP theft.  Since it isn’t a criminal offense it’s really the only avenue groups like the RIAA have.  However I have a big problem with the amount of money they often want.  6 songs do not equal one million dollars.  If you are to use iTune’s pricing method, each song is about $1.  The RIAA is basically trying to get 166,666 times the amount of money that they "lost".  That’s absurd.  If you’re going to sue them, fine, but at least make the amount somewhat comparable to the alleged damages.  The amount they are asking just reveals that their true motive is greed and fear, not protecting their IPs.

    This is far from the first time the RIAA and the MPAA have attempted to try and control technology.  I know the RIAA attempted to regulate the use of casettes when they first came out, trying to keep it out of the "common man’s" hands because they were afraid of massive losses due to mix tapes and such.  Yet casette’s days have come and left and the recording industry hasn’t exactly suffered.  Approaching the problem in a rational, honest way will reward them with general public support.  Approaching it with over-bearing, ham-fisted tactics will just win them scorn and resentment.  So far they’re succeeding with the latter and failing with the former.


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  19. NovaBlack says:

    1 million dollars..

    over $6 of downloading.

    ffs. this is ridiculous. They cant possibly impose such a penalty surely? it would make no sense atall. They have not incurred 1 million $ of damage because of his actions. Its absolutely BS.

  20. Doomsong says:

    I say, everytime the RIAA sues an individual for file-sharing… we in turn band together and sue them for forcing talentless drones upon us instead of actual musicians.

    "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" – Benjamin Franklin

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