(CN) – In a case of first impression, the 1st Circuit ruled that a federal judge lacked the authority to allow oral arguments in a music-downloading lawsuit filed by the U.S. recording industry to be streamed online. Judge Selya called the issue “systematically important and rife with implications for the public interest.”
The ruling overturns a decision by U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner, who approved the request in January. Charles Nesson, counsel for plaintiff Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston University student, had asked the court to allow the proceedings to be webcast, citing public interest in the case.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a trade group representing the plaintiffs, appealed the decision, claiming a webcast would violate federal guidelines on cameras in the courtroom.
The 1st Circuit noted that Judge Gertner had interpreted the local rules as creating a “discretionary catchall exception” to the ban on broadcasting court proceedings in civil cases.
“This interpretation would allow a district judge in an individual case to determine, as a matter of discretion, whether to permit the broadcasting of all or any part of the proceedings,” Selya wrote. “That discretion would have no text-based restrictions. In that sense, it would be limitless.”
A three-judge panel agreed with the RIAA that Gertner lacked the authority to allow webcasting when the rules clearly prohibited it.
“[T]his 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,” Selya wrote. “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.”