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No Streaming Trial for Billion Dollar Charlie in Music Download Case

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By Kevin Fayle on April 16, 2009 8:09 PM

It looks like the world won't get to watch the latest music downloading trial streamed live over the internet after all.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the district court's order allowing the live streaming of the trial clashed with a local court rule and the policy of the Judicial Conference of the United States.
The whole kerfuffle started after one of the defendants - Joel Tenenbaum - retained Charles Nesson as his counsel.  Nesson, also known as Billion Dollar Charlie because of his past litigation work on behalf of corporate giants, has made some pretty radical arguments so far in the case, even surpassing the positions of the resident free culture academics out there. 

Nesson has put forward the proposition that downloading music over peer-to-peer networks for noncommercial personal consumption is a fair use.  Most legal scholars disagree, and instead choose to push the theory that the statutory damages imposed by the Copyright Act are unconstitutional.

Nesson has soldiered on, however, and his attempt to stream the trial looks like just another facet of his overall interpretation of the issues presented by the case.  Nesson argued that, since the internet was all about the free and open flow of information, the public should be able to watch the trial as it happened.

Now, besides just the dry, technical disagreements over the exact meaning of the Copyright Act and this streaming trial video idea, ol' Billion Dollar's been actin' a little peculiar of late.  He's taken this idea of openness to the extreme, even going so far as to post internal email discussions among his legal team to his blog and recording his wife's disparaging comments against one of the members of said legal team (without her knowledge) and posting that on his blog as well. (He later apologized to his wife, and he removed the recording as well as the internal emails.) 

He also posted a recording of a conversation he had with the judge in the case, which borders on contempt of court, and is at the very least a seriously questionable trial strategy.

Ah, but god bless 'im.  Billion Dollar still has the Internet religion, and is still drunk on that freaky cyber-Kool Aid of freely available, mashable, sexy, dirty, sexy information. 

It's refreshing to see.  It takes me back to those giddy days of '98-'99, when a tiny upstart search engine called "Google" was showing us just exactly how much pornography there actually was on the 'net, and everyone was talking about this Napster site that let you download your music for free.

Now, after having been through Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and moving into Web 3.0 - which, as far as I can tell, involves broadband internet on your cellphone combined with free personal masseuses for everyone - I think we've all grown a little cynical in our relationship with the internet.  That's why I'm so encouraged by Billion Dollar's enthusiasm.  After so many booms and busts, so many failed ideas and ruined trends, it's nice to see someone who still appreciates what, at its core, makes the internet so great: Free stuff.

Does the ruling on the hearing really change anything?  Probably not.  The lawyers for the RIAA will still make the same specious arguments in favor of fining the defendants $150,000 for each of the hundreds of songs they made available, and Charles Nesson will probably do something off the wall. 

But instead of seeing it all happen in glorious streaming video, we'll just have to watch it all go down on Twitter.

See Also:
Court Bars RIAA Trial Webcast (Threat Level from Wired.com)

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