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A federal judge on Wednesday authorized the first online streaming of oral arguments in a U.S. District Court in Massachusetts in a copyright infringement lawsuit that pits a Boston University graduate student against the music recording industry.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner restricted the live streaming to a Jan. 22 hearing, saying she will decide later whether to make other proceedings in the case, set for March 30 trial, available online.

The lawsuit is one of a series filed by the Recording Industry Association of America since 2003 against about 35,000 people who allegedly swapped songs online. Most of those sued are college students, and many have defaulted or settled for amounts between $3,000 and $10,000, often without legal counsel.

Charles Nesson, a Harvard University professor representing BU student Joel Tenenbaum, of Providence, R.I., is challenging the constitutionality of the lawsuits, which, based on the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999, can impose damages of $150,000 per willful act of infringement.

Nesson had asked Gertner to authorize video cameras already installed in courtrooms to be used to capture the proceedings and transmit the material to Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet, which will then stream it on its Web site for free. Gertner approved the request and authorized New York-based Courtroom View Network, which has webcast state court trials, to "narrowcast" proceedings to the Berkman Center.

Gertner said local district judges have the discretion under the guidelines of the policy-setting federal Judicial Conference to allow recording and broadcast when it serves the public interest, particularly of legal arguments without the presence of witnesses and jurors in a case.


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