Webcasting Of File-Sharing Trial Faces New Hurdle

Last month, federal district court judge Nancy Gertner granted a request by grad student Joel Tenenbaum to Webcast his trial for allegedly sharing music files online. She ruled that the "Internet generation" should be able to virtually attend the proceedings via the Web. The Recording Industry Association of America filed an emergency appeal, arguing that a Webcast would hurt its case.


The controversy drew the attention of civil rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief, as well as major media organizations like The Associated Press. In all, at least five separate briefs were filed with the First Circuit (although the brief by the media groups was rejected because it would have created a conflict of interest for at least one of the judges).

So far, arguments have largely centered on the policy issues, including whether a Webcast will educate the public, as Gertner found, or potentially prejudice the record industry. The Recording Industry Association of America contended that people might re-edit digital clips to the group's detriment.

But, as it turns out, a 1996 order might trump those arguments -- one in which The Judicial Council of the First Circuit issued a directive banning "the taking of photographs and radio and television coverage" of court proceedings in the jurisdiction.

Still, that's not to say that the Webcast won't occur. Other courts might have created some exceptions to the 13-year-old order. Additionally, it's not clear that a blanket ban on cameras in court is constitutional. In fact, at least one judge in New York has already ruled against a similar prohibition. In that instance, the judge presiding over the trial of four police officers accused of killing Amadou Diallo ruled that the state's ban on cameras in the courtroom was unconstitutional and authorized a broadcast.

Meantime, not all courts are shunning the media. This week, a federal court in Wichita, Kan. authorized a journalist to use Twitter to report on an upcoming trial.

Next story loading loading..