First Circuit Bans Webcast in Trial Court
By Debbie Rosenbaum* – Edited by Chris Kulawik
In Re: Sony BMG Music Entertainment Et Al., April 16, 2009, No. 09-1090
On Thursday, April 16, The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, MA overturned a motion granted by the district court which would have permitted the oral arguments in the case of Joel Tenenbaum vs. the Record Industry Association of America to be broadcast live over the Internet.
In a unanimous opinion by the First Circuit Court of Appeals authored by Judge Bruce Selya, the court ruled that the District of Massachusetts Local Rules, as well as policy statements by the First Circuit Judicial Council, and the United States Judicial Conference, all pointed toward one conclusion: no webcast would be permitted. The decision rested on two premises: 1) Judge Nancy Gertner lacked the authority to permit Internet broadcasts from her courtroom; and 2) the Judicial Council’s 1996 anti-camera resolution banned the use of recording devices in federal courtrooms unless they are used to preserve trial evidence. However, in so holding, the court noted that they were “reluctant to interfere with a district judge’s interpretation of a rule of her court, especially one that involves courtroom management.”
As explained by Copyrights & Campaigns, Judge Kermit Lipez filed a brief concurrence, agreeing with Judge Selya’s conclusion that the rules preclude the webcast, but arguing that there is no good policy reason to disallow it. Copyrights & Campaigns also argues, as does Recording Industry v. the People, that it is ironic that the court of appeals posted an audio recording of the oral argument on its website.
Ray Beckerman has consolidated all the legal documents associated with this portion of the case.
The piracy case at issue involves a 25-year old doctoral student at Boston University named Joel Tenenbaum, who was sued for copyright infringement by the RIAA. If found guilty, Tenenbaum could be fined $150,000 per downloaded song, which would amount to more than $1 million.
As part of his defense efforts, his attorney, Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson asked the district court to allow a hearing to be streamed live over the Web. The motion was granted, with Judge Gertner noting the keen public interest in the case. The granting of that motion led to this appeal.
*Ms. Rosenbaum is one of the students assisting Professor Nesson on Joel Tennenbaum’s defense team.