The Duke Law and Technology Review has released a special edition dedicated to examining the legal and philosophical legacy of John Perry Barlow: co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; junior lyricist for the Grateful Dead; biofuel entrepreneur; philosopher; poet; hacker Zelig; and driven, delightful weirdo.
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The formidable Charlie Nesson, founder of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and all-round good-guy law-prof, has taken up the defense of a Boston University student who's been sued for file-sharing. Nesson is arguing against the constitutionality of the record companies' lawsuits, in a winner-take-all suit that could force the RIAA to come up with a better answer than "sue your customers" (remember, the biggest file-sharers are also the biggest music-buyers, concert-goers, etc -- being a music superfan meansyou do more of everything to do with music).
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Nesson argues that the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 is unconstitutional because it effectively lets a private group – the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA – carry out civil enforcement of a criminal law. He also says the music industry group abused the legal process by brandishing the prospects of lengthy and costly lawsuits in an effort to intimidate people into settling cases out of court.
Nesson, the founder of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said in an interview that his goal is to "turn the courts away from allowing themselves to be used like a low-grade collection agency."
Nesson is best known for defending the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers and for consulting on the case against chemical companies that was depicted in the film "A Civil Action." His challenge against the music labels, made in U.S. District Court in Boston, is one of the most determined attempts to derail the industry's flurry of litigation.