LIVE FROM THE COURTROOM: Concerns of Cameras and the Live Streaming of Cases - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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LIVE FROM THE COURTROOM: Concerns of Cameras and the Live Streaming of Cases

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LIVE FROM THE COURTROOM: Concerns of Cameras and the Live Streaming of Cases

On March 6, 2017, Dan Abrams, founder of Mediate, will expand his LawNewz blog1 by debuting an online video network that will stream live coverage of high-profile trials and court hearings across the United States.2 The site will stream live hearings from 9AM to 5PM with coverage repeating overnight.3 In addition to the live streaming of court proceedings, the network will partake in legal analysis and commentary.4

The network was inspired by Abrams’ early career as a reporter for the popular television network Court TV.5 Reporting for Court TV, Abrams covered cases such as the O.J. Simpson trial and the Jack Kevorkian trials.6 Abrams and Court TV have been accredited with making true-crime a popular obsession in America.7 One of Abrams’ reasons for launching the video network is that he believes there is a current market for live coverage due the public fascination with current court trials and the success of recent documentaries like O.J.: Made in America and Making a Murderer.8 Abrams asserts that the internet is a better medium for live court coverage rather than television because the internet is better suited for a “niche market.”9

To bring the content to LawNewz viewers, there is one hurdle Abrams must surpass. As every judge’s opinion on cameras in the courtroom differs, Abrams must receive permission from each judge to live stream a proceeding.10 Abrams recognizes this obstacle and intends file a motion to permit cameras for each case.11

In the past, the idea of cameras in court rooms has earned heavy criticism. One concern is that cameras could potentially change the outcome of the case. Criticism of televised court coverage reached its peak after completion of the O.J. Simpson case in 1995.12 With its high-level media coverage, the O.J. case became an American obsession and is argued to have led to the breakdown of the line between news/reality and entertainment.13 Many legal professionals fear a lack of distinction between the two.

In addition, many critics argue that the use of a camera in the courtroom could induce trial participants to act differently.14 Some believe that with the use of cameras jurors’, witnesses’, and attorneys’ behaviors may change.15 Jurors may become distracted with the technology and may fear their safety, while witnesses may become timid with the idea of being filmed and be more reluctant to speak.[ footnote]Id.[/footnote] Furthermore, Justice Kennedy speaking on the use of cameras in federal courts stated his concern that “cameras could encourage lawyers and justices to engage in sound bites rather than legal arguments.” Justice Kennedy also stated that “[w]ith the presence of cameras, some justices might feel self-conscious and limit their questions, while others might warn to the attention and become more voluble.”16  Justice Kennedy favors the Supreme Court’s policy on not permitting cameras in the courtroom and suggests that the absence of cameras in the courtroom “keeps the public and legal community appropriately focused on the Court’s written opinions, in which the Justices explain their views, and which cannot be captured by television.”17

Despite of the criticism there has been an increase in the allowance of cameras in courtrooms.18 For example, the Ninth Circuit recently launched live coverage of their hearings on their website and YouTube channel.19 The Ninth Circuit’s YouTube Channel gained popularity earlier this month with the streaming of President Trump’s immigration hearing.20 Many courts that allow cameras have not reported any unfavorable or negative results.21 Moreover, there is an argument that live coverage could lead to greater public awareness of what courts do and “may lead to increased respect for judges, jurors and decision they reach.”22

The LawNewz network is set to launch with coverage of two cases; first, the murder trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez and second, the rape and assault trial of MMA fighter War Machine.23

Nicole Manganiello

Nicole Manganiello is a second-year J.D. Candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal.