The Federal district court handling the Authors Guild’s suit against Google over Google Books has scheduled a hearing on for February 18, 2010 in New York City (after several postponements). The parties, their supporters and the Department of Justice will all get to speak. Twenty-six outside groups will each get five minutes to speak about the deal—21 against and 5 in favor. (If the numbers seem off-balance, note that France is on the “con” side, and if the statist-stasist-centralist-protectionist French are against something tech-related, how bad an idea could it really be?)
Although the settlement is highly arcane, how this issue is resolved will probably do as much, for better or worse, to shape our digital future in the years to come as any tech policy issue currently under discussion. (I’d say only net neutrality, privacy regulation and media socialization would fall into the same tier of such fork-in-the-road decision-points.)
So of course this profoundly important public hearing is going to be livecasted, right? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. The court order mentions that video of the proceeding will be provided in a second courtroom for overflow seating, but says nothing beyond that. Given the importance this hearing, that’s a bit like saying that the State of the Union Address is going to be available on video in the Senate Chamber as well as the House Chamber—so there will be plenty of seating for the literally hundreds (in this case, maybe dozens) of people in the interested public who are lucky enough to live nearby and drop in—and manage to get in. Maybe I’m not giving the court the benefit of the doubt here, but… why should I? The judiciary can’t even handle making their PDF documents easily accessible! So it’s possible that they’ll surprise us, but I doubt it. And if courtroom practice up in New York is anything what I’ve dealt with, I suspect the court security will prevent journalists from bringing cameras, even on their cell phones, into the courtroom. So we probably won’t even get grainy video re-captures!
If they can put the video in the courtroom next door, surely they can put it up on the web, too. If courts are going to be making such critical technology policy decisions, their final hearings on the matters ought to be accessible to everyone. We would expect nothing less from our other branches of government, so why can’t we hold the judiciary to the same standard? Seriously, guys, have you ever heard of UStream?