BOSTON (AP) – A judge who authorized the first online streaming of oral arguments in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts has temporarily suspended proceedings to allow a higher court to consider petitions challenging the ruling.

Judge Nancy Gertner on Tuesday suspended until Feb. 24 hearings originally set for Thursday in a copyright infringement lawsuit that pits a Boston University graduate student against the music recording industry.

The case is part of an effort by the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA, to stop online music sharing. The trade group has filed a series of civil lawsuits since 2003 against about 35,000 people who allegedly swapped songs online. Most of those sued are college students, and many have defaulted or settled for amounts between $3,000 and $10,000, often without legal counsel.

Charles Nesson, a Harvard Law School professor representing Joel Tenenbaum, is challenging the constitutionality of the lawsuits, which – based on the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 – can lead to damages of $150,000 per willful act of infringement.

Nesson had asked Gertner to authorize video cameras already installed in courtrooms to be used to capture the proceedings and transmit the material to Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, which will then stream it on its Web site for free. Gertner approved the request and authorized New York-based Courtroom View Network, or CVN, which has webcast state court trials, to “narrowcast” proceedings to the Berkman Center.

The music recording industry disagreed and asked Gertner to temporarily suspend proceedings while the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers their appeal.

“We appreciate the court’s decision to postpone the hearing so that the circuit court could conduct a full review of the matter,” RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said Wednesday.

“The district court committed an egregious error of law” when it authorized the recording and online streaming of proceedings in the case, RIAA attorneys said in court documents.

They said Gertner’s ruling violates a rule for the federal court of Massachusetts, established policies of the Judicial Conference of the United States and is troubling since it requires members of the public who want to view the broadcast to visit the Web site of the Berkman Center, which was founded by Nesson and contains material that is harshly critical of the music recording industry and its litigation policies.

The order authorizing the online streaming of court proceedings will cause irreparable harm to the music recording industry by promoting Tenenbaum’s position to the public and the potential jury pool.

“Unlike a trial transcript, the broadcast of a court proceedings through the Internet will take on a life of its own in that forum. The broadcast will be readily subject to editing and manipulation by any reasonably tech-savvy individual,” attorneys for the music industry said in court documents.

They also argued that the relationship between CVN, Tenenbaum and Nesson “strongly suggested that the proposed broadcast was not for in furtherance of the public interest, but rather part of a larger strategy to advance defendant’s and his counsel’s interests in connection with this case.”

The judge, however, said some of RIAA’s claims were never raised in their current form in the district court.

Gertner said the court agreed to Nesson’s proposal after the music recording industry failed to counter his plan to let the Berkman Center act as a subscriber to Courtroom View Network services and broadcast court proceedings on its Web site.

Gertner noted that the decision did not limit streaming to the Berkman Center’s Web site, saying RIAA also is free to subscribe to the CVN recording and to make it available to the public at a Web site of its choosing, provided that the group observes conditions already set by the court, including streaming unedited material.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.