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New legal hurdle for video streaming order in RIAA piracy case

Appeals court asks for comments on camera ban in the courtroom, pushing case back

February 24, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A new legal hurdle has been added to a dispute between the music industry and Boston University doctoral student Joel Tenenbaum over the live Internet streaming of courtroom proceedings in the high-profile music piracy case.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued an order on Feb. 20 asking both sides in the case to provide their legal comments on a 1996 ban on the use of cameras in the circuit's courtrooms.

The appeals court has given Tenenbaum and the music labels 20 days from the order to file the comments, or supplementary briefs, on the likely implications of the 1996 resolution on the present case.

In a separate development, a scheduled hearing of the case today in a federal district court in Boston, at which the live streaming was to have occurred, has been pushed back to April 30.

A three-judge panel at the appellate court is currently considering an appeal that was filed in January by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which asked the court to disallow live Internet streaming of courtroom proceedings in its case against Tenenbaum.

The RIAA's motion was in response to a decision on Jan 14 by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner that basically authorized the Courtroom View Network to send a live video of a scheduled court hearing in the case to Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. The center, in turn, was to have made the video stream available to the public on its Web site.

Charles Nesson, a Harvard University law professor who is representing Tenenbaum in the case had asked Gertner to allow the hearing to be streamed. He had claimed it would allow a broader Internet audience "to see what's at stake and just how out of proportion the [RIAA's] response is to the supposed infraction [in the case]."

The RIAA for its part had appealed the decision, calling Gertner's decision "wrong on its face" and "troubling in its application." The trade group said that because the video stream would be distributed by the Berkman Center, which Nesson co-founded, it was unfair and prejudicial to the music labels. Such an arrangement "undermines basic principles of fairness and is flatly inconsistent with the public interest," the RIAA said in its motion to the appeals court.

The Feb. 20 order does not directly address the RIAA's appeal and will further push back any decision on it. Nesson told Computerworld today that the court's order raises a "very open-ended question" about the legal implications of the 1996 resolution quoted in the order. The six-line resolution mentioned in the order basically affirms the judicial council's decision to bar the taking of photographs and also bans radio and TV coverage of proceedings within the circuit courts.

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