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Old 12-15-2008, 10:23 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Judge postpones hearing in key RIAA lawsuit

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lincoln Almond on Monday rescheduled the hearing until January 6. Its purpose is to determine whether the parents of the defendant, Joel Tenenbaum, will be forced to turn over their computer to the RIAA's lawyers.

This case is unusual because a group of Harvard law school students, with the help of Harvard law professor Charles Nesson, is providing Tenenbaum with an aggressive legal defense. Their goal: to argue that the law the RIAA relies on is unconstitutional.

Few judges are eager to strike down laws duly enacted by Congress, and there's no evidence that the judges in this case are an exception to that rule. Still, the Harvard team is arguing that a 1999 copyright law is so Draconian it amounts to "essentially a criminal statute;" that it grants too much authority to copyright holders; and that it violates due process rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

In August, Tenenbaum's lawyers filed a countersuit in Massachusetts district court, accusing the RIAA of abuse of process and saying the law was not intended to award such "grossly, excessive punitive damages."

The RIAA has not exactly been idle. It responded with a motion (PDF) saying that "while it is clear that Defendant would rather not be a defendant in a copyright infringement suit, this is not the basis of a claim for abuse of process." More broadly, the recording industry argues that billions of songs are illegally swapped every month on peer-to-peer networks, and that as a result it has suffered "devastating" financial losses.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner's courtroom in Boston is where most of the action has been taking place; the Rhode Island proceedings are a sideshow to the main event.

So far, Gertner has seemed frustrated by the large number of RIAA-named defendants who have shown up in her courtroom, typically lacking lawyers and without much knowledge of what their rights and obligations are under the law.

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