Mock Trial in the Chemistry Department of Harvard University

Apr 7, 2014 - News by

Marshall Lerner conducted a mock trial on April 7, 2014 at Harvard University in the Chemistry Dept. using the case of Sony vs. Tenebaum, a copyright infringement case which addressed the issue of statutory damages for unauthorized downloading of music from the Internet. The mock trial jurors were undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students.

The students were given the facts as stated in the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision and the jury instructions that was used in the trial and asked to render their verdict. The students’ verdict ranged in the order of $25,000-$50,000. Students were shocked to find out that the actual verdict was $675,000. A Harvard professor who attended the mock trial was also of the opinion that the damages award was excessively high and punitive, notwithstanding the fact that the jury found infringement to be willful. During the actual trial and appellate hearing, Tenebaum’s lawyer strenuously argued that statutory damages for copyright infringement is unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision and held that statutory damages for copyright infringement was constitutional.

The take away points are:

  1. 1. Don’t infringe someone else’s copyrights
  2. Statutory damages for copyright infringement is constitutional
  3. Respect the Constitution

The Constitution is a framework for building a just and democratic society. It’s not a suicide pact.