Federal courts allow live blogging now more than ever

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Chicago (IL) – In what may be the beginning of a long-term trend which ultimately evolves into full, live courtroom broadcasts, several federal judges have begun to allow live audio streams and real-time blogging from within their courtrooms, and in some instances even in criminal trials. Several recent federal district courts around the nation have allowed, even over lawyer’s objections, journalists and individual tweeters unaffiliated with an official publication to broadcast live, play-by-play messages which describe the court’s proceeding on their live blogs — the modern day equivalent of teletype — indicating the courts are slowly embracing modern technology.

A Massachusetts federal judge allowed online streaming of the courtroom’s audio during a recent RIAA lawsuit against a Boston University student (January, 2009). The lawyers objected that students could re-mix the audio to create statements that were never said by the lawyers (like this).

Also in January, in a tax fraud trial in Sioux City, Iowa, a federal court judge allowed a local Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter to stream live blog updates via his notebook computer as the court case proceeded.

Many lawyers object to this kind of real-time broadcast believing that the intricacies of the legal system are not something easily understood by those not trained in the legal process, and what might seem to be a particular way to a reasonable, thinking person, may not be that way in a court of law due to the legal requirements of defining something.

Lawyer objections also often extend further in jury trials, stating that the broadcaster’s personal viewpoint may be read by the juror who goes online, thereby tainting their impartiality. However, judges cite that jurors are instructed to avoid newspaper, television and radio broadcasts which may relate to their case, and state further that the legal system must either trust jurors to obey court instructions, or not.

Opinion

If we consider the advancement of news broadcasting in this nation, it was about 70 years ago that teletype was used to transport news updates all over the nation in record time. For the first time ever, people were able to receive overnight updates on the widest variety of major news items imaginable written by far-away journalists and transmitted to remote locations, even places like Intercourse, Alabama or Hicksville, Ohio. And today, with the Internet, such a feature has far exceeded any previous ability, going super-nova.

Mankind’s ability today to be instantly connected with everything that exists on this planet over the Internet (provided an effort is put forth to make it so) is unparalleled in recorded history. With consumer-level satellite technology, we can literally be anywhere on the planet broadcasting anything via live stream to anybody on the Internet. And it is likely only a matter of time before the courts adopt this un-ending growth trend of moving everything possible online.

It may be such that in a few years there will be business startups offering federal courtroom streams live to its registered membership. For something like a modest $5.95 per year fee, users will be able to listen to any trial they like. Or even better, the courts themselves may develop a streaming system which is included as part of the court’s annual budget, whereby for free anybody interested can stream court cases live, or possibly under a short delay.

What the Internet holds for mankind’s direct access to information absolutely boggles the mind. And if you ever question the power of the Internet, something I often refer to as “the great oracle”, go to Google, Yahoo, Ask or some other search engine today and find out the step-by-step instructions for knitting a sweater, rebuilding a car engine, constructing a high-altitude weather balloon, or making the perfect soufflĂ©. In fact, I’ll argue that it won’t be too long until printed media is all but completely dead. In fact, with the acceleration of technology, storage capacity, compute ability and manufacturing and distribution, I bet it will happen in my lifetime (by 2040).

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