Friday, February 20, 2009

Cameras in the Courts

There is a big debate in the First Circuit (Boston) over whether proceedings in the RIAA v. Tenenbaum case should be webcast. A hearing is scheduled on the webcasting issue for April 7, 2008 in the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

No doubt, the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995 and the antics of the lawyers and even the way the judge handled that case have set the cause of cameras in the court room back many years in the USA.

However, civil proceedings are not the same as criminal proceedings. Most aspects of a civil proceeding are very technical and often less than electric in terms of excitement, to put it mildly. Grandstanding and theatrics usually backfire badly when used in front of experienced judges.

The RIAA has spent years seeking publicity for its so called "antipiracy" efforts against some 30,000 ordinary citizens in the USA. Now, in the face of the involvement of Prof. Charlie Nesson of Harvard, they want to put a lid on this publicity. Anyone who has seen Charlie in action knows that he has a certain flair and charisma. But the RIAA has some of the best lawyers in the country - some with far more actual courtroom experience than Professor Nesson. (Actually, now, one of their very best - Don Verrilli - is no longer available because he is now at the DOJ, but that's another story.) The RIAA is hardly at a disadvantage. It has nothing to fear - other than potential exposure of the dissection of its many legal Achilles' Heels.

The Courts are opening up in Canada - witness the wonderful development of live webcast and overnight archiving by the Supreme Court of Canada, launched just this week.

The internet should enable greater access to justice. Transparency and open courts are very important in that respect. Let's hope that the trend to webcasting proceedings of great importance - especially civil and appeallate - continues.


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