Monday, December 7, 2009

How Team Tenenbaum missed a chance to shape P2P fair use law; Ars Technica, 12/7/09

Nate Anderson, Ars Technica; How Team Tenenbaum missed a chance to shape P2P fair use law:

A federal judge has made it official: P2P file-swapper Joel Tenenbaum is on the hook for $675,000. The real tragedy here, though, is what might have been, as the judge admits she was receptive to all kinds of limited fair use claims and again slams the record industry's lawsuit campaign.

"Federal judge Nancy Gertner today officially brought down the tent on the Joel Tenenbaum P2P Big Top World 'O Fun, all but admitting that she would have given Tenenbaum's arguments about "fair use" a truly sympathetic hearing were it not for the shoddy behavior of his legal team. What could have turned into a watershed case instead became another statutory crucifixion, with Gertner finally entering the jury's $675,000 verdict against the young file-swapper whose defense crashed down with an in-court admission that he had been lying all along.

Gertner signed off the jury's damage amounts, which means that Sony BMG is entitled to $112,500, Warner Bros. gets $225,000, Arista Records gets $45,000, and Universal picks up $292,500.

The record labels wanted more, though; specifically, they asked for an injunction against Tenenbaum that would stop him from "promot[ing]… using the Internet or any online media distribution system to infringe copyrights."

According to Gertner, "the word 'promote' is far too vague to withstand scrutiny under the First Amendment. Although plaintiffs are entitled to statutory damages, they have no right to silence defendant's criticism of the statutory regime under which he is obligated to pay those damages. This Court has neither the desire nor the authority to serve as the censor of defendant's public remarks regarding online file-sharing."...

Also remember that Gertner throughout has been quite a public critic of the music industry's lawsuit campaign. She continues that criticism in the memo, saying, "The Court, deeply concerned by the rash of file-sharing lawsuits, the imbalance of resources between the parties, and the upheaval of norms of behavior brought on by the Internet, did everything in its power to permit Tenenbaum to make his best case for fair use."...

"Rather than tailoring his fair use defense to suggest a modest exception to copyright protections, Tenenbaum mounted a broadside attack that would excuse all file-sharing for private enjoyment." By striking so broadly at the idea of copyright, Tenenbaum took the matter out of Gertner's hands. "Whether the widespread, unlimited file sharing that the record suggests he engaged in benefits the public more than our current copyright protections is a balance to be struck by Congress, not this Court," she concluded.

In addition, she singled out Nesson for criticism in a footnote to the memo. "Defense counsel repeatedly missed deadlines, ignored rules, engaged in litigation over conduct that was plainly illegal (namely, the right to tape counsel and the Court without consent), and even went so far as to post the illegal recordings to the Web." Examples of Nesson's bad behavior in the case "are legion."

And so we're left wondering what might have been. Tenenbaum can still contest the damage award, arguing that it was unconstitutionally excessive (papers on that claim are due in January), but "reducing a ridiculous damage award" is far less important than shoring up robust fair use rights."

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