Next week, a lawsuit challenging 2008’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state of California, goes to trial in San Francisco court, and yesterday, a key preliminary issue of the case was resolved in an unprecedented and very Silicon Valley fashion. After being presented with requests from the prosecution that cameras be allowed to broadcast the trial live, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco ruled that the trial would be filmed for public consumption — not, however, for television broadcast, but for distribution on YouTube.
The delayed online broadcast of Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger et al will be the first of a recently-approved pilot program for airing footage from non-jury civil trials, and true to the nature of compromise, neither side of the dispute is happy about the decision. Anti-Prop 8 activists campaigning for the trial to be broadcast on television are asking supporters to weigh in with their thoughts before Friday morning, when Judge Walker will close public submission of comments. Meanwhile, anti-gay marriage opponents are seeking to ban cameras entirely from the courtroom, stating as a primary concern potential harassment of witnesses for the defense.
The video will be distributed via the official YouTube channel for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Because this is the first implementation of the program, the channel so far only has one video up, a test of the split-screen format that will in theory be the model used for broadcasting the case (in fact, the test video already sports text branding it as from Perry et al v. Schwarzenegger et al).
While television broadcast would in fact increase awareness of the trial on a larger level, the move to use YouTube to distribute video could potentially reach a larger audience. Given how this theoretically local debate is truly one of national interest, that could prove to be an advantage — or, alternately, simply continue the echo chamber of debate.