Monday, June 8, 2009

'Russia Today': 'Pravda' of yesteryear?

The English-language news network "Russia Today" has broadcast a report on the Joel Tenenbaum case. I can only believe the correspondent earned her stripes at the Communist-era Pravda, where propaganda substituted for facts and balance. The report is truly, deeply awful, a vile goop of falsehoods and one-sided mischaracterizations.

To mention just a few:

The anchor says Tenenbaum could "end up paying millions of dollars for downloading seven songs." False. Even by Tenenbaum's own propaganda (which itself ignores most of the relevant facts), the maximum possible award of statutory damages is about $1 million -- not "millions." And the plaintiffs allege that he both downloaded and uploaded songs. And it is not certain how many songs on which the labels will seek damages among the approximately 800 he had in his shared folder. And in the first Jammie Thomas trial, the labels did not ask for a specific amount, instead leaving the award within the discretion of the jury (as bound by the statute). (I explain this all in greater detail here.)

The reporter gives us three choices on how to characterize Tenenbaum: "A hero of our time, a victim, or a criminal?" How about: "A copyright infringer"? This is a civil case; no one has charged him with being a criminal.

The following Chyron runs through most of the piece: "STUDENT CITES NASTY PRACTICE IN U.S. PRIVACY OR PIRACY TRIAL." I'm not exactly sure what that even means, but it sure doesn't sound like something a fair-minded news organization would broadcast.

Tenenbaum tells the reporter that his "life is derailed because of this," and the reporter says the case could bankrupt him and his family. But Tenenbaum could have easily settled long ago for $4,000 -- which would have been the smart thing to do, especially since both he and his counsel have admitted that he used a p2p network to download and "share" songs without permission (and Judge Gertner knows about this admission as well). If his "life is derailed," it is only because he has chosen to engage a quixotic fight to change copyright law and make himself a martyr.

The reporter says, "He and his team just want this nightmare to end." Easy: stop dragging out the inevitable with "frivolous" motions and settle.

But worst of all: where is the comment from the labels? Did they get a chance to explain why Tenenbaum is liable for infringement, and should have to pay? Or why piracy harms the industry? Or to respond to the tales of woe recounted by Tenenbaum and his mother? If so, there's no evidence of it.

Nice work, comrade.


  1. I note you quickly picked up on "victim or criminal", as I did. It is disappointing that the "reporter" did not proffer other characterizations, such as, for example, "moron". I do wonder if becoming a martyr is truly worth the price of 15 minutes of fame?

    If Miguel de Cervantes was alive today, I have little doubt who he would choose as the model for his most famous character.

  2. Aren't penalties for copyright infringement $250,000 per instance? In that case, he would be required to potentially cough up $1.75 million for 7 songs.

    You have mischaracterized this fact as well.

  3. Jaike: Actually the upper end is $150,000. See section 504:

    That would make the maximum damages $1,050,000. Grammatically that is still "millions" because it is over one million, but that is splitting hairs. It's about a million.

    Of course, this assumes that Tenenbaum is found to be a willing infringer and the absolute theoretically maximum is awarded to the plaintiffs. The latter is almost impossible.

    Just to clarify.


Comments here are moderated. I appreciate substantive comments, whether or not they agree with what I've written. Stay on topic, and be civil. Comments that contain name-calling, personal attacks, or the like will be rejected. If you want to rant about how evil the RIAA and MPAA are, and how entertainment companies' employees and attorneys are bad people, there are plenty of other places for you to go.