A Massachusetts federal judge denied a Boston University student’s bid to bring counterclaims against record companies and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in their copyright infringement lawsuit targeting college students who make illegal Internet music downloads.
On June 15, District Judge Nancy Gertner of the U.S. Court for the District of Massachusetts issued electronic orders dismissing defendant Joel Tenenbaum’s counterclaims against all the plaintiffs and denying his bid to add the RIAA as a party to the counterclaims. Capital Records Inc. v. Alaujan, No. 1:03-cv-11661 (D. Mass.).
Gertner rejected Tenenbaum’s argument that the record industry’s lawsuits to stop parties downloading and distributing copyrighted works is an “abuse of process” simply because the campaign has spawned a large number of cases against young people who cannot afford attorneys.
“Abuse of process, as the cause of action is defined, does not turn on the identity of the defendants, their ability to hire an attorney, nor their inclination to settle the claims against them,” stated Gertner. “Congress has handed the Plaintiffs a massive hammer to combat copyright infringement, and they have chosen to use it. That choice, whether wise or unwise, does not amount to an abuse of process.”
One of Gertner’s orders also granted Tenenbaum’s motion to amend his answer to the record companies’ complaint and assert a defense that the defendants could download music under the so-called “fair use” doctrine, which allows for limited legal use of copyrighted materials without permission.
“The late addition of the fair use defense is more troubling to the Court, however it believes that this amendment will not significantly prejudice the Plaintiffs nor substantially delay trial,” Gertner wrote.
Harvard Law School professor Charles Nesson, who is representing Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum, could not be reached for comment.
Debbie Rosenbaum, a Harvard Law School student attorney working with Nesson on the Joel Fights Back project to help Tenenbaum said in a statement that the team is “disappointed by the court’s decision to dismiss our abuse-of-process claim.
“The plaintiffs are misusing federal process to pursue grossly disproportionate — and unconstitutional — punitive damages in the name of making an example of Joel to an entire generation of students,” Rosenbaum stated. “But we look forward to asserting our fair use claim in court — a matter that has always been reserved for the jury.”
Recording industry lawyers at Dwyer & Collora of Boston and Denver-based Holme Roberts & Owen did not return calls for comment.
Recording industry association spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said the association is “pleased with the court’s decision.”
In April, the U.S Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit reversed Gertner’s order to allowing Webcasting of the district court case.