Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Y For YouTube: U.K. Court Deems YouTube Video Inadmissible In Guy Fawkes Night Fireworks Explosion Case
As far as I can tell, the trial of Martin Winter in a Lewes' Magistrates' Court has resulted in the first evidentiary ruling on the issue of the admissibility of a YouTube video. Winter was the owner of Festival Fireworks, a fireworks supplier and fireworks display organizing company near Halland, East Sussex in England. During Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night (check out V for Vendetta for further explanation), there was an explosion at Festival Fireworks' warehouse, resulting in several people being injured and two fire crew members being killed as they tackled the blaze.
The 50 year-old Winter, however, is not on trial for the explosion, but his ensuing conduct. After the explosion, Sussex police inspector Martin Pattenden set up a cordon, which separated Winter from other members of the Borough Firework Society. According to the prosecution, Winter thereafter swore at Pattenden and acted aggressively while carrying a flaming torch. Another member of the police also claimed that he smelled alcohol on Winter's breath. Winter was thus charged with disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest.
The prosecution sought to prove its case in part through video footage of Winter's arrest, which appeared on YouTube. You can find that footage linked in one of the articles reporting on the trial. The court, however, ruled that the footage was inadmissible. As I noted before, I think that this is the first case ruling on the admissibility of a YouTube video. A quick Westlaw search reveals only one state case mentioning YouTube, and that case merely makes reference to the "YouTube era." Adams v. City of San Bernardino, 2007 WL 2422098 (Cal. App. 4 Dist. 2007).
There are 17 federal cases mentioning YouTube, but it appears that none involved the admissibility of YouTube videos. Instead, they consist of cases where, inter alia,:
-someone alleged breach of copyright based upon posting of a YouTube video: See, e.g., Doe v. Geller, 2008 WL 314498 (N.D. Cal. 2008); or
-a judge felt compelled to direct his captive audience to a YouTube video that had nothing to do with the case at hand: See Central Mfg., Inc. v. Brett, 492 F.3d876 (7th Cir. 2007), for Judge Evans' gratuitous recounting of the George Brett pine tar incident along with a link to a YouTube video, in a case that dealt with a dispute involving George Brett and a baseball bat, but which otherwise had no connection to the video/incident.
Unfortunately, the articles on the case don't make clear why the court deemed the video inadmissible, and I can only speculate that it might have done so based upon authentication issues or claims that Lewis' right of privacy would have been violated by its admission. It would seem to me, however, that in the United States, the odds of such evidence being deemed admissible would be much higher, but only time will tell.