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Judge Rules Against Streaming Of Music Downloading Case

April 17, 2009

A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that oral arguments in a music-downloading lawsuit filed by the recording industry against a Boston University student can’t be streamed online, The Associated Press reported.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that it was “bound to enforce” rules that close federal courtrooms in Massachusetts to webcasting and other forms of broadcast, after overturning the previous decision that allowed online streaming.

The student, Joel Tenenbaum, and his lawyer Charles Nesson, had requested that a courtroom video service be allowed to transmit a hearing to Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a decision that would provide free, unedited streaming of the case on its Web site.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner had approved the request in January.

But the Recording Industry Association of America, a Washington, D.C. trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry, appealed the decision.  It argued that it violated federal court guidelines on cameras and could disrupt its right to a fair trial.

The federal appeals court reversed the decision, saying that Gertner’s ruling was based on “incorrect interpretation” of the law.

The court wrote: “This is not a case about free speech writ large, nor about guaranty of a fair trial, but about the governance of the federal court.”

Nesson said he was disappointed by the ruling but had anticipated such a response from the court.

He said the judges are from a “different age” and “don’t recognize” that the Internet is fundamentally different than traditional media.

Nesson plans to continue the appeal, even if it means an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. However, he said the ruling would not delay the substantive proceedings in the Tenenbaum case and he would go forward with motions before Gertner.

The organization was pleased with the appeals court’s decision and looked forward to moving on to the copyright infringement case, according to RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth.

Online streaming of the appeals court gained the support of fourteen news organizations, including The Associated Press and The New York Times Co.

Gertner erred in allowing webcasting of oral arguments, said Judge Kermit Lipez, who acknowledged that existing rules prohibiting online streaming should be re-examined.

Tenenbaum is accused of downloading at least seven songs and making 816 music files available for distribution on the Kazaa file-sharing network in 2004.

Music companies declined his offer to settle the case for $500, ultimately demanding he pay $12,000. Should the court determine his alleged actions were willful, he could be forced to pay $1 million.

Court documents were filed by the recording industry in an effort to enforce the First Amendment’s protection of copyright law.

The RIAA said in December it had abandoned its policy of suing people for sharing songs protected by copyright and would work with Internet service providers to cut abusers’ access if they ignore repeated warnings.

However, the recording association confirmed that it would continue to litigate outstanding cases of illegal file sharing.

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