More than half a decade ago, the RIAA sued tens of thousands of alleged file-sharers. While the music group settled with the majority for a few thousand dollars each, student Joel Tenenbaum chose to put up a fight.
As of today, the case is still ongoing.
In 2009, a jury found Tenenbaum guilty of “willful infringement” and awarded damages mounting to $675,000. A year later this amount was reduced by 90% when Judge Nancy Gertner ruled that the penalty was excessive and unconstitutional. In 2011 this decision that was reversed after a new hearing at the Court of Appeals.
In yet another appeal, Tenenbaum’s legal team, headed by Harvard law professor Charles Nesson, is asking the court to reduce the $22,500 fine per song to the minimum statutory damages of $750 per song. This request is made on due process grounds.
As expected, the RIAA doesn’t agree with the request and presented its arguments to the court last Friday. But they were not alone – on the same day the Department of Justice also filed a brief with the court, backing the RIAA’s vision on the case.
In a 26-page filing the Department of Justice makes the argument that previous cases, as cited by Tenenbaum’s legal team, do not apply in this instance. It concludes that the due process grounds are not relevant yet and that the damages therefore shouldn’t be reduced before the case continues.
The due process question should only be answered when the court decides that the jury’s award of $22,500 per song is not excessive, according to the Departement of Justice.
“The only circumstance in which the Court can reach Defendant’s due process challenge at this time is if the Court first determines the jury’s statutory damages award is not excessive under the common law remittitur standard. The United States, therefore, does not believe it is necessary at this juncture to address the merits of Defendant’s constitutional claim,” the DoJ writes.
Although this is not the first time the Justice Department has become involved in an RIAA civil case, it remains unclear why they chose to intervene this time. What we do know is that the authorities are very up-to-date with the legal proceedings, as five former RIAA lawyers are now employed by the Department of Justice.
Whether these connections between the Justice Department and the RIAA have increased the likelihood of the authorities getting involved is hard to say. However, it is clear that Tenenbaum and his legal team are up against some serious resistance, and that the US authorities don’t want the student to get off that easily..
To be continued, indefinitely.