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Harvard Law Professor Takes on the RIAA

If you're a fan of Jonathan Harr's book, A Civil Action, you probably remember Harvard law professor, Charles Nesson, who was retained by plaintiffs lawyer Jan Schlictmann to give his firm (which represented a group of Woburn, Mass., residents in a toxic tort suit against two large corporations) more credibility before the Harvard-educated judge in charge of the case. But Nesson brought more to the case than just a Harvard pedigree -- he also suggested a new way of valuing the case, by focusing on the potential for punitive damages rather than just the harm to a small group of plaintiffs. As such, he earned the moniker "Billion Dollar Charlie."

Nesson is back in the spotlight, this time challenging the constitutionality of the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) lawsuits, which seek damages for illegal music downloads. The crux of Nesson's argument is that the RIAA is using civil litigation to punish alleged criminal activity, which Nesson claims violates the Constitution.

As this profile highlights, Nesson has lead an interesting and somewhat unconventional life, particularly for a Harvard academic. From the profile:

Now 69, Nesson has become something of a legend, not necessarily for the right reasons. A few years ago he spoke openly about his occasional marijuana use, and of late he has been haunting the onanistic underworld of Second Life, a computer-generated, "virtual reality" universe.

It's not clear whether Nesson will prevail in his actions against the RIAA.  Even so, Nesson's involvement will level the playing field between the RIAA and those whom it sues -- giving them cause to celebrate that this Boston Charlie did in fact return.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 18, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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