O.J. commerce

Price-gouging court reporter reaches Web agreement with Court TV and CNN.


Todd Woody
October 9, 1996 12:34PM (UTC)

O.J. fanatics rejoice: a constitutional crisis has been averted and every
word uttered at Simpson's Santa Monica trial now will be available for
endless analysis on the World Wide Web.

Two television networks and the Simpson court stenographer had spent weeks
in a First Amendment tussle over the media's right to publish trial
transcripts on the Web. But the dispute disappeared on Monday when Court TV
and CNN agreed to more than double court reporter Paula Dickson's fee and
delay for 24 hours the posting of daily transcripts from Simpson's wrongful
death trial.

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Simpson's expected testimony and the broadcast blackout imposed by Los
Angeles Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki sent the two cable networks
scrambling for transcripts of the proceedings.

Dickson, however, invoked a little-used 1993 California law to claim that
while the media could buy copies of transcripts from her, they could not
publish them on their Web sites. Dickson herself hired an agent to sell
transcripts through the Net Court Web site for 55 cents a page and a $20
processing charge.

A quirk of California history gives court reporters the right to market
trial transcripts, even though they are public employees and court records
are public documents. Court stenographers in Simpson's 1995 criminal trial,
for instance, earned more than $150,000 selling transcripts. But the
widespread publication of Simpson documents on the Web threatened to erode
that monopoly.

Court TV and CNN's attorney last month called Dickson's interpretation of
California law "astonishing" and "constitutionally impermissible."

On Monday, however, interest in satisfying the public's seeming
insatiability for Simpson news quashed any looming First Amendment
showdown.

"I sent (Dickson and her agent) a letter saying that we fundamentally
disagree with their legal position and that this should not be read as a
waiver of our rights," said Craig Matters, editor of the Court TV Law
Center Web site. "I'm reasonably comfortable with the deal . . . It's
certainly a less expensive alternative to litigation."

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Court TV and CNN will pay Dickson $1.30 per page for the transcripts
published on their Web sites -- more than double her usual fee. The new fee
includes the standard 55-cents-per-page charge plus a 75-cents-per-page
"redistribution surcharge."

Said Scott Huseby, Dickson's agent and the president of Charlotte,
N.C.-based Net Court: "We've reached agreements with CNN and Court TV that
we feel are fair and reasonable, and any other news organizations have been
offered the same deal."

Court TV and CNN also will link their sites to Net Court and post a notice
telling readers to go there to obtain an official copy of the transcripts.

The 24-hour delay in publishing transcripts helps ensure that other media
buy their own transcripts rather than just wait to see what Court TV and
CNN post, Matters said.

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Dickson has pledged to produce the transcripts quickly, and even with the
delay, the documents should appear on Web sites faster than in previous
high-profile trials, according to Matters.

That means that if Dickson prepares a transcript on Monday night, for
example, it will be available on Court TV's Web site on Wednesday morning,
Matters noted.

Of course, die-hard O.J. junkies don't have to wait for the media. If
you're willing to pay the price, Dickson will e-mail transcripts directly
to you each night.

Todd Woody is a senior writer at The Recorder, a San Francisco legal daily
where a version of this story first appeared. The Recorder is affiliated
with Court TV.

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Todd Woody

Todd Woody is a regular contributor to Salon. He is a senior writer at The Recorder, a San Francisco legal daily, where a different version of this story first appeared.

MORE FROM Todd Woody



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