On April 4, 2011, Joel Tenenbaum will become the first victim of the RIAA crusade to reach the appellate level. Further fueling the spectacle, the First Circuit Court of Appeals granted a motion which will allow a Harvard law student to make oral arguments on Joel Tenenbaum’s behalf. On the other side, Tenenbaum will face stiff competition as the RIAA will be represented by Paul Clement, a former United States Solicitor General.
After speaking to Phil Hill, a current Harvard law student who is involved in Tenenbaum’s defense, Mr. Hill explained that there are three fundamental issues at stake: (1) should statutory damages apply to ordinary consumer copiers as they never have before? ; (2) is the damages award unconstitutionally excessive? ; and (3) were the instructions to the jury improperly given by the trial judge? As the trial court awarded the RIAA $67,500 in damages, it will be interesting to see how the First Circuit determines the appropriate punishment for Tenenbaum’s conduct. Tenenbaum’s counsel will argue that instructing the jury that it may award an unconstitutional level of damages (up to $150,000) was an error. As a result, the jury was biased to award an egregious amount of damages to the RIAA. The RIAA, however, will argue that the Copyright Act applies to the infringement at issue and that the Constitution would even allow a damages award of up to $4.5 million dollars for the illegal sharing of 30 songs. By the RIAA’s reasoning, a damages award could be virtually limitless depending on the number of songs a potential defendant illegally shared.
In 2005, the RIAA became the first organization in the history of the United States to sue an ordinary consumer for copyright infringement. Six years later, after approximately 12,000 lawsuits, Joel Tenenbaum is one of two defendants still taking on the domineering RIAA head-on. The oral arguments between the two sides are open to the public and will take place at 9:30 A.M. at the Moakley Courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts.
*Vlad Vidaeff is a second-year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law and is Vice President of the International Law Society. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sport Management and a minor in French from the University of Michigan. Upon graduation in May 2012, Mr. Vidaeff intends to either practice intellectual property law, international law, or sports and entertainment law.