Federal Civil Practice - Local District Court Rule Does Not Provide Judge Authority to Order "Narrowcast" of Motion Hearing - in Re Sony BMG Music Entertainment

By Schwartz, Jordan K. | Suffolk University Law Review, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Federal Civil Practice - Local District Court Rule Does Not Provide Judge Authority to Order "Narrowcast" of Motion Hearing - in Re Sony BMG Music Entertainment


Schwartz, Jordan K., Suffolk University Law Review


Federal Civil Practice-Local District Court Rule Does Not Provide Judge Authority to Order "Narrowcast" of Motion Hearing-In re Sony BMG Music Entertainment, 564 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2009)

Since the 1930s, federal courts have expressed great reluctance toward allowing cameras into courtrooms for the purpose of recording or broadcasting proceedings. (1) Although the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure ban the use of cameras in criminal proceedings, there is no such rule of practice governing civil proceedings. (2) In In re Sony BMG Music Entertainment, (3) the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, addressing a matter of first impression, considered whether a federal district judge had authority to permit "gavel-to-gavel" webcasting of a hearing in a civil case. (4) Forbidding enforcement of the district court's order, the First Circuit determined that the district court abused its discretion by interpreting Local Rule 83.3 to include a "discretionary catchall" exception to the rule's general prohibition against the simultaneous broadcast of court proceedings. (5)

After a group of major record companies, including Sony BMG Music Entertainment, accused Joel Tenenbaum of illegal file-sharing, he sought to allow Courtroom View Network (CVN) to "narrowcast" the non-evidentiary motion hearing in his case. (6) Despite the plaintiffs' implicit desire to deter the public from using peer-to-peer file-sharing software, they asked for a writ of mandamus to block the narrowcast, citing Local Rule 83.3 of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. (7) The court interpreted Local Rule 83.3 to include a grant of judicial discretion, allowing a judge to permit the recording or broadcasting of court proceedings. (8) The court reasoned that the public benefits associated with open courtroom proceedings outweighed any prejudicial effect a narrowcast would have on the parties, courtroom participants, and the judicial system as a whole. (9)

The First Circuit, reviewing the district court's decision to allow the motion, considered the language and structure of Local Rule 83.3, as well as national and local policies concerning the use of cameras in the courtroom. (10) Based on its analysis, the First Circuit prohibited enforcement of the district court's order and held that the district court judge based her perceived authority to permit a gavel-to-gavel narrowcast of a civil motion hearing on a "palpably incorrect" interpretation of Local Rule 83.3. (11)

Scholars, courts, and policymakers have made persuasive arguments for and against permitting the recording and broadcasting of courtroom proceedings. (12) The United States Supreme Court has held that a trial is indeed a public affair, but has stopped short of declaring a constitutional right to view a live broadcast of courtroom proceedings. (13) Despite the Judicial Conference's 1972 federal court ban on recording and broadcasting courtroom proceedings, a majority of states and the American Bar Association (ABA) have adopted policies condoning the use of cameras in courtrooms since the Supreme Court decided in Chandler v. Florida (14) that their presence did not inherently violate a defendant's rights to due process or a fair trial. (15) In response to the groundswell of state action, the Judicial Conference appointed a committee to investigate the possibility of permitting recording devices and broadcasting in federal courtrooms and subsequently authorized a three-year pilot project that would allow electronic media coverage of civil proceedings in select federal trial and appellate courts. (16)

The Judicial Conference eventually rejected the committee's recommendation to extend the project, citing only the "intimidating effect of cameras on some witnesses and jurors" as a reason for its decision. (17) After publishing a slightly revised policy in the Guide to Judicial Policies and Procedures, the Judicial Conference softened its position, recommending that each court of appeals decide for itself whether to permit the use of electronic media devices to record or broadcast appellate arguments within their respective circuits. …

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