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First Circuit won't allow Webcast in file-sharing case

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The U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) has overturned a federal judge's order that a hearing in an illegal…

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) has overturned a federal judge’s order that a hearing in an illegal file-sharing case may be streamed live over the Internet.

The three-judge panel found that a local district court rule, combined with U.S. Judicial Conference policy and a First Circuit Judicial Council resolution, barred broadcasting and recording in most instances in Massachusetts federal courts. The decision came three months after Judge Nancy Gertner agreed to allow a Webcast of a Jan. 22 hearing in the downloading lawsuit against Joel Tenenbaum. That hearing was postponed while the plaintiff, the Recording Industry Association of America, appealed.

Appeals Court Judge Bruce Selya concluded in the written opinion:

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. Our purview here is much more confined: this is a society dedicated to the rule of law; and if a controlling rule, properly interpreted, closes federal courtrooms in Massachusetts to webcasting and other forms of broadcasting (whether over the air or via the Internet), we are bound to enforce that rule.

Judge Kermit Lipez penned a concurring opinion calling for a reconsideration of the local rule, the Judicial Conference policy and the First Circuit resolution: "Indeed, in my view, there are no sound policy reasons to prohibit the webcasting authorized by the district court. Therefore, this case calls into question the continued relevance and vitality of a rule that requires such a disagreeable outcome."