Courtroom webcasting ban a “disagreeable” outcome

The good news for lovers of webcasting is that a federal appeals court has ruled that the medium is a form of broadcasting with equal status to that of television. The bad news is that that ruling was made to ban webcams from covering a music filesharing case.

The defendant, Boston University student Joel Tennenbaum, had asked for the hearing to be streamed live through the Harvard Law School website, a request the case judge approved in January. However, the Recording Industry Association of America successfully argued on appeal that doing so would violate local court rules banning broadcasts since 1996.

Tennenbaum’s lawyer insisted that those rules – brought in to ban TV broadcasts – were not relevant to webcasting. He said the difference was that an unedited internet broadcast would not add the type of emotion or hype which would come from television coverage such as news bulletins. The appeals court rejected that argument, saying the difference between TV and webcasting was “one of degree, not kind”.

One of the appeal court judges supporting the decision said he was forced to uphold the law, but that it made for a “disagreeable” outcome. Kermit Lipez said there were “no sound policy reasons” for banning a webcast and said it was questionable whether the law was still relevant today.

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