First Circuit rules against webcasting proceedings in copyright suit

First Circuit rules against webcasting proceedings in copyright suit

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion text] Thursday that oral arguments in a copyright infringement case could not be broadcast over the Internet. Respondent Joel Tenenbaum, one of many to be sued for copyright infringement, made a motion in December in the district court to allow Courtroom View Network [corporate website] to "webcast a non-evidentiary motions hearing" originally scheduled for January 22, 2009. The district court granted the motion due to "keen public interest in the litigation." The petitioners, including Warner Brothers, Sony BMG [corporate websites], and other recording companies, petitioned for a writ of mandamus against the district court's ruling. The companies relied on Rule 83.3 of the Local Rules of the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [text, PDF], which provides that "[e]xcept as specifically provided in these rules or by order of the court, no person shall … make any broadcast by radio, television, or other means, in the course of or in connection with any proceedings in this court." Additionally, petitioners argued that the US Judicial Conference [official website] advocated a ban on recording devices in federal courtrooms except where needed to preserve trial evidence. The court ruled on the discretion provided by Local Rule 83.3 by stating that a broad interpretation would be limitless. The standard of review that the appellate court applied considered abuse of discretion with "a special degree of deference." The court determined:

Here, we think that the limits of the district judge's discretion were exceeded; her interpretation of Local Rule 83.3 is unprecedented and, in our view, palpably incorrect.

We are mindful that good arguments can be made for and against the webcasting of civil cases. We are also mindful that emerging technologies eventually may change the way in which information — including information about court cases — historically has been imparted. Yet, this is not a case about free speech writ large, nor about the guaranty of a fair trial, nor about any cognizable constitutional right of public access to the courts.

The court maintained that the broadcasting of court proceedings was still allowable in criminal cases and in other limited instances.

The underlying lawsuit in this case is one of many suits brought alleging copyright infringement for digital file-sharing. In December, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) [website] said that, although it would still continue to pursue outstanding cases, it would discontinue suing alleged file-sharers [JURIST report] and instead seek cooperation with internet service providers (ISP) to cut off access for users violating copyright law. The French Parliament recently defeated [JURIST report] legislation that would cut off internet access for those who illegally download copyrighted material.