Let the music (trial) play

Is it possible that the Recording Industry Association of America is afraid of listeners? Their pleading to a US appeals court to forbid the Webcasting of arguments in RIAA v. Tenenbaum is starting to sound like the excuses from a kid seeing monsters under the bed.

The latest round of entertainment up in Boston came last week, when 14 news organizations filed an amicus brief with the appeals court explaining that contrary to RIAA's claim, allowing cameras in the courtroom for the February 24 hearing falls in line with usual and customary camera access for similar hearings.

Judge U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner, who's hearing the case, had previously approved a request by Harvard professor Charles Nesson (defendant Joel Tenenbaum's counsel)to allow a courtroom video service to transmit the hearing to Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and, if the RIAA wished it, to the RIAA's site. Each site would be allowed to stream the hearing from its site as long as the stream was 1) unedited and 2) free.

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Those streaming conditions blow away one of RIAA's three stated objections -- that the group wouldn't have the same access as the defendant. The amicus brief addresses a second -- that it's not legal to allow a private concern to webcast court proceedings in Massachusetts.

That leaves RIAA's third concern -- namely that they'll look bad. (As my colleague Tim Conneally phrased it last week, "broadcasting the hearing will cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs' case.") It's understood that the RIAA is concerned that online mashups and other edits will make them look bad and/or distort their arguments.

The news organizations addressed that argument too. A webcast, they noted, is editable -- just as a transcript or a story might be edited, and with no more damage to the truth as long as the truth is out there. (In other words, "A Series of Tubes" is out there, but so is the Ted Stevens speech on which it's based.)

And really, afraid of a dance mix? Has it come to this, RIAA?

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