Department of Justice Jumps Into Harvard v. RIAA

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Joel Tenenbaum was once a typical, file-swapping student.

Now, Tenenbaum is at the center of a lawsuit that involves Harvard University, major recording labels, and the United States Government.

In Sony BMG Music Entertainment v. Tenenbaum, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has now moved to defend the constitutionality of statutory damages on copyrighted works as outlined in federal copyright law.  “In enacting the Copyright Act’s statutory damages provision, Congress intended to create a civil remedy to allow copyright owners to obtain compensation for infringement of their copyrighted works and to deter infringement,” the brief states.  That is just one of several arguments offered by the DOJ to defend the constitutionality of damage provisions enacted in the late 90s, and argue in favor of damage awards that can reach $150,000 per infringed work.

The rest is subject to interpretation.  The DOJ typically defends the constitutionality of existing law, and the filing is only focused on such questions.  But the newly-appointed DOJ under Barack Obama includes two former RIAA lawyers, raising questions on whether the government agency will show too much partiality towards copyright owners.