In Internet First, RIAA File Sharing Hearing to Be Webcast

The internet will get a chance to watch live as lawyers spar in a Recording Industry Association of America file sharing lawsuit this month, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner of Massachusetts granted over-the-internet coverage for a Jan. 22 motions hearing in the RIAA's lawsuit against Boston University student Joel Tenenbaum and others. The defendants are seeking to dismiss allegations they shared copyrighted music over peer-to-peer networks.

The RIAA opposed the broadcast, requested by the defendant's attorney, Charles Nesson, a Harvard University legal scholar. On Wednesday, the judge called the RIAA's position "curious."

"At previous hearings and status conferences, the Plaintiffs have represented that they initiated these lawsuits not because they believe they will identify every person illegally downloading copyrighted material. Rather, they believe that the lawsuits will deter the Defendants and the wider public from engaging in illegal file-sharing activities. Their strategy effectively relies on the publicity resulting from this litigation," she ruled.

The ruling is groundbreaking. Federal trial courts rarely, if ever, permit still pictures or live feeds from their courtrooms, though appeals courts are more open. Most states allow some type of photography, and vest the decision exclusively with the judge presiding over the case.

Many state judges began barring cameras in court following the O.J. Simpson murder trial. But Judge Gertner is an outspoken proponent of cameras in the courtroom, and she noted that the law does not prohibit them.

"Nothing in the local rules of the District Court of Massachusetts, the policies of the Judicial Council for the First Circuit, life, or logic suggests that this motion should be denied," she ruled (.pdf).

In September 2007, Gertner testified on Capitol Hill that "public proceedings in the 21st century necessarily mean televised proceedings." She said "the vast majority of the American public get information about courts through screens — television or the internet."

The internet feed will be provided by Courtroom View Network and will be funneled to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, which will broadcast the hearing live. Trial in the case is scheduled for March 30. Cameras have only been granted for the 2 p.m. Eastern, Jan. 22 hearing.

Last month, the RIAA announced it was abandoning its file sharing legal campaign, which has targeted more than 30,000 individuals but would continue with cases already in the pipeline. Most cases settled out of court for a few thousand dollars. Only one has gone to trial, which resulted in a mistrial.

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