If someone asks how to get out of jury duty I tell them what they don’t want to hear–it’s their civic duty, everyone should serve on a jury, etc. Massachusetts makes it easy to preach this line its “one day, one trial” system provides little wriggle room to escape jury service. Everyone does serve on a jury in Massachusetts–judges, lawyers, law students, law professors, doctors, failed presidential candidates (John Kerry served on a jury about six months after the 2004 election), students who live in Massachusetts eight months out of the year to attend school . . . everyone. I have no sympathy for people who try to duck it.
I did, however, just read a story about a juror who was deservedly discharged from a Massachusetts jury in a criminal trial. The defendant was convicted and claimed on appeal that the judge abused her discretion in discharging this juror. The Massachusetts Appeals Court did not agree and upheld the conviction. The title of the story merits a spoiler alert; click to read The Case of the Stinky Juror.
I can’t walk outside because the streets and sidewalks are filled with ice and snow and there are only so many laps I can do around my house. Last night we went to the Chestnut Hill Mall so I could walk for an extended period and build up leg strength. We arrived at the Mall about 7:30 PM and left about 9:00. It was almost deserted. Even the Apple Store, normally bursting with shoppers and browsers, was subdued. Many stores were empty save for a few lonely cashiers and sales people one could glimpse through the Sale! signs. I’m not the best person to gauge the state of the retail economy–I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been in this Mall in the past two years–but I found it depressingly quiet.
Underscoring that the RIAA’s new anti-piracy initiative co-exists with its pending lawsuits, a judge in Rhode Island is considering whether to order the parents of Joel Tenenbaum to turn over their home computer for RIAA inspection. The RIAA alleges that Tenenbaum used the family computer to download seven copyright protected songs and wants to copy its hard drive to prove its infringement claim. Tenenbaum, a BU graduate student, has turned his opposition to the RIAA suit into a mini cause celebre, attracting the legal representation of Harvard Law School’s Charlie Nesson, a cause celebre in his own right. Nesson is opposing the RIAA’s quest for the Tenenbaum home computer on grounds of privacy and relevance and challenging the RIAA’s right to file these suits. Now that the RIAA has decided not to file more suits like this is it worth taking this one to the mattresses against Charlie Nesson and a cadre of HLS law students?
This video — “Uncle Jay Explains”– provides a short, funny, musical look back on 2008. (Thanks, JL)
The music industry generated some news while was hobbling.
The RIAA announced that it is dropping its campaign of mass lawsuits. The RIAA has filed copyright infringement lawsuits against over 35,000 people in the past five years for allegedly pirating copyrighted songs, a fact most college students know well. Most suits were settled for between $3,000-$5,000, a significant sum for many of those sued but I would be surprised if the RIAA netted much money for its members after the cost of filing and administering the lawsuits. The suits may have deterred some individuals from pirating copyrighted music–e.g., a lawyer-turned-college-professor with financial assets and a professional reputation to protect–but did not put a dent in the amount of piracy. The RIAA’s new strategy is to enlist the support of ISPs who agree to tighten the screws on users the RIAA identifies as distributors of copyright-protected files. Cooperating ISPs will forward RIAA-generated cease-and-desist letters to their offending users. If a targeted continues to make copyrighted songs available for downloading “they will get one or two more emails, perhaps accompanied by slower service from the provider. Finally, the ISP may cut off their access altogether.” (Sarah McBride and Ethan Smith, “Music Industry to Abandon Mass Suits,” The Wall Street Journal, 19-Dec-08) The RIAA is not dropping pending lawsuits and may continue to sue high-volume individual file-sharers. The WSJ’s law blog speculates the RIAA’s problematic lawsuit against Jammie Thomas was central to its change of strategy. That’s the case in which the jury awarded the RIAA over $220,000 in damages for Thomas’s piracy, and the trial judge decided a few months later than his instructions to the jury were wrong. He had told the jury that making copyright-protected songs available in a shared folder constituted copyright infringement. He reconsidered his instructions after other court rulings undermined the “making available” theory, holding that the RIAA must prove copyright protected songs were actually copied to establish copyright infringement.
Involving ISPs in an enforcement role is potentially quite effective, if enough ISPs join the effort. A former student articulated this very concept in 2002. After graduation he developed monitoring software and a business plan to implement the concept and wooed the RIAA and ISPs to its merits, without success. He was a half-decade ahead of his time. Alert readers will note that the RIAA’s ISP initiative targets distributors, not downloaders; it appears that free-riders–those who take without giving–will continue to fly under RIAA radar.
Yesterday Apple announced two significant changes in the iTunes st0re, multi-tier pricing and DRM-free music. The record labels have wanted iTunes to drop the flat $.99/song price model in favor of pricing that reflects a song’s popularity. Now iTunes will sell songs for $.69, $.99, or $1.29; in exchange the record labels agreed that songs sold on iTunes will be free of digital rights management limits on copying and use on multiple computers. These changes bring iTunes in line with the Amazon’s MP3 store.
To current and future readers, students past, present, and yet-to-be, to friends and family, I wish a happy new year. 2009 has to be better than 2008. Right?