Judge approves Web coverage of hearing

Dana Liebelson | Newsgathering | Feature | January 16, 2009

A federal judge in Massachusetts agreed this week to allow live Internet streaming coverage of a Jan. 22 motions hearing in an illegal file-sharing case involving the recording industry.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner on Wednesday approved a defense request that the hearing be carried directly over the Web by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. The ruling resonates in a case centered on Internet use: in it, the Recording Industry Association of America has accused Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston University student, of downloading and sharing songs over the Web service Kazaa. According to The Associated Press, he could face a $1 million penalty if he is found to have done so intentionally.

In her opinion, Gertner found nothing in local rules or in "life, or logic" to prevent her from approving the motion. She also argued that the case could have special meaning in the digital age, particularly to young people.

"In many ways," she wrote, "this case is about the so-called Internet Generation -- the generation that has grown up with computer technology in general, and the internet in particular, as commonplace. . . . The public benefit of offering a more complete view of these proceedings is plain."

As to RIAA, Gertner said the association's concerns about the possible effect of video coverage on the jury seemed odd given that its purpose in bringing the lawsuit was, in the judge's words, to "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 wrote.

The audio-visual coverage will be "gavel-to-gavel" -- unedited, with no break for commercials or news sound bites. Gertner has not yet ruled on whether the March 30 trial will also be available on the Web.