An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses a recent file-sharing case in which Joel Tenenbaum was convicted of illegally downloading and sharing 30 songs.  His original verdict was an award of  $67,500 in damages to the music companies… a tenth what the jury voted to award the music companies, and an amount still under appeal by both sides.

But for copyright-reform advocates, a lawsuit filed against Mr. Tenenbaum by the music industry has provided an instrument to sound alarms about a broader issue: how fear of enormous damages can chill innovation that involves even a minimal risk of copyright liability.

Those advocates, represented by lawyers from the law schools of Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley, are now pushing the court to set a legal precedent in the Tenenbaum case that they hope would help universities, artists, and others whose experiments may stretch the boundaries of copyright law.

Arguing for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, advocates hope to set precedents through Tenenbaum’s case, so other users of digital media will have an idea what to expect from the legal process, and that “reasonable” penalties can be set for violations.  The concern here seems to be related to the difficulty in securing rights and permissions of some digital media, and the fear of lawsuits that sometimes follow.

For instance, the brief points to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Archives at the University of California at San Diego. Scripps houses a collection of more than 100,000 photographs, many of them donations from people who took part in oceanographic voyages, but it displays only 4,000 of those images online because many of the photos lack official copyright documentation, the brief says.

More detail in the article.


  1. Oh look, it’s some of those “orphan works” that don’t exist. Too bad that we decided that scanning orphan works and making them available online was something that only a moneygrubbing corporate fat-cat THIEF would do, huh?

  2. I’m unclear as to why anyone not already involved would *want* to get involved with this total loser of a case. I’m no lawyer, but from what I can tell after an initial reading of Judge Gertner’s summary judgment, Tenenbaum was heavily engaged in distribution of pirated music via Kazaa, and he didn’t even try to offer a rational or credible defense even though the court was predisposed to grant him wide latitude. “Tenenbaum did not contest these facts at summary judgment; he argued,
    instead, that they just did not matter.”

  3. I don’t think the EFF and other advocates are directly involved in the Tenenbaum case. Instead, they are pushing for copyright reform so future cases have precedents for fair and equitable decisions and penalty guidelines. The Tenenbaum case simply touched off the need for them to do this.

  4. This case embodies, for me, the worst side of the legislative/legal system.
    A cabal of vested interests exploiting and abusing the law, while a dishonest and overwhelmingly powerful corporation brings an outrageous action that is out of proportion to the illegal action being adjudicated to a shocking and disgusting degree.
    The copyright law has degenerated into an instrument of exploitation and abuse.

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