Courtroom View

Over the weekend, I talked to the president of Courtroom View. He’d swung by the law-prof blogger hangout area in the hopes of getting some of us to blog about his company. It was a transparent play, but he was open and friendly, and it is a neat service.

In a nutshell, they go around looking for trials that people want to know about but that aren’t “important” enough to attract news crews. Through a network of local videographers—hired on a project basis to cover particular trials—they provide live streaming coverage of everything that happens in their trials of interest. Exhibits are scanned and provided—also in real time—as PDFs.

The billing varies by the type of event. Specialized Delaware Chancery Court matters of interest to hedge funds have a few subscribers who pay through the nose (pretty much the only way that hedge funds know how to pay). Trials with wider fanbases, as it were, can recoup their costs at a lower price per subscriber.

There oughtn’t be a business opportunity here. Trials ought to be publicly accessible online, immediately, in full streaming video. The streams should be divided into segments and archived online. The audio should be fed through voice-recognition software to create a full transcript and an index to the archived video. All of this should be free, available to anywhere, provided by the courts themselves, and paid for by the government. (It goes without saying that search engines should be invited in.) Pretty soon, that “should” in the sense of “wouldn’t it be nice” will become a “should” in the sense of “we can do this easily and cheaply, so why aren’t we?” Such are the demands of truly open government and a truly open judiciary.

But in the meantime, when such things aren’t yet done as a matter of course, Courtroom View is a step in the right direction. It’s a pure information arbitrage play. I love that they function as a virtual corporation: while they have training for their videographers, and precise instructions as to how to film a trial, they just bring in someone local when there’s a trial as needs filming. I love that they PDF the exhibits. I love that they fly under the radar of the media’s sense of newsworthiness. And I like that they understand network economics and are willing to sell both a great many cheap subscriptions and a few expensive ones.

Does this mean that when the government does become aware that this kind of service is necessary, they’ll be prohibited from providing it for fear of competing with the private businesses? That’s what has happened with municipal wireless.