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Harvard team taking on RIAA comes to NU

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Published on April 8, 2009 in The Huntington News

On iTunes, seven songs cost $6.93.

Seven songs for Joel Tenenbaum, however, may cost him $1 million.

Tenenbaum, a graduate student at Boston University, and a team of Harvard law students led by Professor Charles Nesson are currently fighting the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

“Everyone’s talking about Joel,” said Debbie Rosenbaum, a Harvard graduate student who is handling the public relations for the case. “There’s a definite buzz in cyberspace, so it’s exciting.”

Yesterday, about 20 people gathered in Shillman Hall to listen to Tenenbaum, Nesson and Rosenbaum talk about the case and what they believe the key issues are.

“We’re not here to protect the CD industry,” Tenenbaum said. “We are here to protect the music and its future.”

The case began in 2003 when a letter was sent to Tenenbaum’s parents’ house, where he was living at the time. He was 16 years old, and the letter requested $5,250 for the seven songs he allegedly downloaded illegally. He explained his financial status as a student, and sent a check for $500, which was later returned.

He said he didn’t hear anything else until 2007, when five separate music labels filed a civil complaint, seeking up to $150,000 per song. From here, he and his mother, a lawyer, dealt with the numerous legal allegations until Nesson offered to help.

“We had been fighting for a while, then Charlie stepped in to assist me,” Tenenbaum said.

In October 2008, Tenenbaum’ attended a deposition hosted by a council of music industry representatives from Denver. After this, his parents, sister and even ex-girlfriends had to endure the same council.

“This to me is so mind-boggling,” Nesson said. “We’re talking about a kid that downloaded some songs, and for doing that his family has been infringed upon ‘hellip; It’s some kind of insanity.”

With the enormity of the case and the measures that have been taken by the RIAA legal team, the case has gained a lot of support, even globally.

“This case has become bigger than Joel or any of us,” Rosenbaum said.

Because the case has attracted so much attention and is fighting the higher-ups of the recording industry, Tenenbaum and his team are using unconventional methods like blogging about their legal strategy and asking for public input. This has generated negative feedback from many lawyers, Rosenbaum said, but isn’t illegal.

“We’re lapping into collaborative knowledge,” she said. “I realize we are pushing a lot of boundaries.”

The case has also left people divided, however, resulting in varied responses on their website,, and the Facebook group, Joel Fights Back Against RIAA.

“We’ve gotten two basic responses,” Tenenbaum said. “To fight the man ‘hellip; and then of course that I’m killing the music industry.”

Tenenbaum and his team, however, believe peer-to-peer sharing is actually beneficial to the music industry and needs to be adopted.

“We understand people make money in between the artist and customer,” Rosenbaum said. “The Internet has fundamentally changed how it works. Artists can now directly communicate with consumers.”

Here, they cited the ‘Radiohead Model,’ where the band Radiohead released a download-only version of their album In Rainbows for a user-defined price. Also, by low-priced or free downloads, artists can get more exposure.

“I’d like [people to] recognize that noncommercial sharing is a good thing and actually helps artists,” Nesson said.

The issues at hand in the case and what the defense hopes to achieve show how the lines are currently blurred, said junior music industry major Marc Pellegrino.

“It’s very interesting and informative,” he said. “But it just proves that nothing is clear, and it’s not black and white.”

The first hearing date has been postponed to April 30 since they are currently fighting to allow the trial be viewed online. Though it’s a constant fight, the team said they feel like they are correct in their beliefs and have the general public’s support.

“The legal battle is uphill, but I think the court of public opinion is on our side,” Rosenbaum said.

Written by jdunccc

April 8, 2009 at 12:00 am