April 17, 2009

First Circuit pulls the plug on courtroom Webcast

In what may be a technically correct, but philosophically disappointing, decision, the First Circuit has prohibited enforcement of an order by U. S. District Judge Nancy Gertner, which would have allowed a "gavel-to-gavel" Web cast of a hearing in a case against college students for alleged illegal downloading of music.

In In re: Sony BMG Music Entertainment et al. the court concluded that Judge Gertner's order--based on a request by one of the defendants, grad student Joel Tennenbaum, represented by Harvard Law School Professor Charles Nesson, was based on a "palpably incorrect" interpretation of a local court rule.

Nesson is a founder of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Kermit Lipez stated that "there are no sound
policy reasons to prohibit the webcasting authorized by the district court," and that the issue "calls into question the continued relevance and vitality of a rule that requires such a disagreeable outcome." He went on to note the irony that an audio recording of the oral argument in the hearing before the First Circuit was available on the court's Web site immediately after the argument.

To hear a recording of the hearing and view background material, go to The Recording Industry vs. The People blog.

Another site that contains a link to an audio recording of the hearing, and other information about the case, is Joelfightsback.com, a site apparently run by a group of students--under the guidance of Professor Nesson--assisting in Tennenbaum's defense.

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