Tenenbaum To Supreme Court: Let's Get This Constitutional Debate On Statutory Rates For Copyright Infringement Rolling
from the or-the-trolls-win dept
You may recall that, in the case of Joel Tenenbaum — who is in a legal battle with some major lbels for file sharing — a jury awarded the labels $675,000 for the sharing of just a few songs. The judge, Nancy Gertner, pointed out that this seemed unconstitutionally excessive and reduced the award to $67,500 — knocking 90% off the jury’s award. The appeals court in the case reinstated the original $675,000 on procedural grounds. It said that Judge Gertner jumped the gun in leaping to the constitutional question, rather than using remittitur, as had been done in the Jammie Thomas case. Remittitur would allow the RIAA to have the case happen all over again with a new jury. In the Jammie Thomas case there have already been three trials.
Tenenbaum, led by famed lawyer/law professor Charles Nesson, challenged the appeals court on all of this, but had that quickly rejected. As we noted at the time, Nesson seemed to (as he’s done in the past) argue points unrelated to the specific legal questions at issue. This seemed like a bad way to go about things in a court of law, even if it may help in the court of public opinion.
The latest is that Tenenbaum/Nesson have filed to raise the issue with the Supreme Court. At least the argument here is a bit more focused on the requirement for remittitur, with Tenenbaum’s team arguing that the statutory damages for non-commercial use is clearly a major Constitutional issue, and by forcing it through the remittitur process, all the courts are doing is pressuring people like Tenenbaum to settle, rather than ever allowing it to be judged on constitutionality. And that has consequences — namely in enabling copyright trolls to shake people down, without ever allowing them to challenge the constitutionality of massive statutory damages.
I actually think this is a much more persuasive argument than I’ve seen from Team Tenenbaum in the past, but it seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will actually take the case on. I hope I’m wrong (and then, if I am wrong on that, I hope I’m wrong in my guess as to how it will come out, because this version of the Supreme Court doesn’t appear to understand the issues around copyright law). Either way, we should find out soon enough.
I do think it’s interesting that Nesson is using the copyright troll issue as part of the argument. Eventually, this or an issue like it will get to the Supreme Court, and hopefully the Justices realize just how damaging such practices can be:
They use the asymmetric cost of litigation to make defense by the individual economically irrational.
This Court should do everything it can to remedy this misuse of process. Its effects are not ended because the RIAA has ceased suing individuals. Others are using the legal structure and litigation tactics they have put in place.4 The weight of federal litigation is not a tool appropriately used to suppress legal challenge. The absence of cases pending in the federal courts highlights the problem: a deeply misshapen judicial architecture has been set in place. Without review, it is unfixable. The suppression of ability to challenge a process that is repeatedly producing appalling results, not circuit splits, is exactly why this case is worthy of this Court’s present attention.
It’s an interesting argument to get around the lack of a circuit split (conflicting rulings in different circuits, which is one of the key reasons why the Supreme Court agrees to hear certain cases). However, I just don’t think the Court will think it’s a big enough deal to jump on it, perhaps figuring that it can bounce back up eventually. Of course, that only underlines the point: for that to happen, it means years more of Tenenbaum’s time wasted with this case. That seems unfortunate.