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Charles Nesson: worst lawyer ever?

Posted by Christopher Shea  August 4, 2009 02:45 PM

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Charles Nesson's client, Joel Tenenbaum

That's the uncharitable assessment of a blogger at Blue Mass Group ("Reality-Based Commentary on Politics and Policy In Massachusetts and Around the Nation"), following the $675,000 penalty levied against Nesson's client, the Boston University graduate student Joel Tenenbaum, by a federal judge, for music-file sharing.

Blue Mass Group points out, as the Globe did, that such cases typically settle for a few thousand dollars. Now Tenenbaum faces the possibility of bankruptcy, unless Nesson can persuade the court to reduce the damages.

In remarks after the verdict came down, Nesson, a renowned teacher at Harvard Law School who made his students virtual co-litigators with him on the case, complained that U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner didn't permit him to make the argument that the doctrine of "fair use" sanctioned file-sharing. Fair use is more typically invoked in cases involving parody, scholarly citation, or remixing.

But it's not as if Nesson didn't have fair warning on this score. Even the staunchest opponents of the current copyright regime had told him that fair use couldn't be stretched that far. Larry Lessig, perhaps the nation's pre-eminent intellectual-property lawyer, told Nesson it would be "a big mistake" to call him as an expert witness if Nesson planned to make that argument.

How do we know this? Because Nesson blogged about it. Joel Tenenbaum may now be wishing he'd spent more time reading Nesson's blog. He might have had a better idea of just how far out there his his superstar lawyer's game plan was, from the start.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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