An innovative experiment that turned working Massachusetts courtrooms into test labs for social media in the courts has quietly closed down operations as its operating funds have dried up. Called OpenCourt and operated by WBUR, an NPR news station in Boston, the project used digital technology to make Quincy District Court more accessible to the public and was also designed to be a testing ground for blogging and tweeting from the courtroom.
The program hosted live streaming video of court proceedings. It also hosted a WiFi network for use by journalists and bloggers and reserved a portion of the courtroom’s seating for their use.
OpenCourt’s first year of operation was funded by a $250,000 Knight News Challenge grant. When those funds ran out, WBUR provided the funds to keep the program running for a second year. When that money ran out last November, the project shut down its video stream and moved out of the Quincy court. (The OpenCourt website remains up.)
John Davidow, the executive editor of new media at WBUR who spearheaded the project, said this week that the OpenCourt project, itself, has not shut down but is moving into a new phase outside the Quincy courthouse. For one, it is working with the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard’s Berkman Center to create a report documenting the Quincy project and the lessons it provided. That report will be published later this year in The National Law Journal, he said.
OpenCourt also has other initiatives in the works, its director, Joe Spurr, told me, that it is not ready to announce publicly.
The project’s legacy will include Commonwealth v. Barnes, an important 2012 Supreme Judicial Court ruling on the constitutionality of cameras in the courts. In Barnes, the SJC rejected a challenge to OpenCourt’s live streaming, holding that a court order restricting video streaming from the courtroom would be a form of prior restraint and could be upheld only if it is the least restrictive, reasonable measure necessary to protect a compelling government interest.
It was also the first ever to live stream a criminal trial from a Massachusetts courtroom.
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