You would think in a country where a person could watch murder trials of Derek Chauvin and O.J. Simpson from the comfort of their couch that posting a broadcast of a regulatory dispute to the Internet would barely raise an eyebrow.
This is not true, however, in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s case against Ripple Labs. In a brief, sternly-worded order providing dial-in details for a remote discovery hearing Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn told crypto fans that “unauthorized recording or rebroadcasting is strictly prohibited (including YouTube streams, Twitch streams, audio stream, etc.).”
“Any identified violations will be investigated, and anyone found to have engaged in these behaviors may be subject to criminal sanctions,” the judge continued.
This is not the first time the issue has come up in the high-stakes case, which is one of the most closely-watched regulatory battles to date in the cryptocurrency realm. In it, the SEC claims that Ripple’s sale of $1.3 billion of popular cryptocurrency XRP was in actuality an unregistered securities offering, a contention the company, its executives, and thousands of XRP investors vigorously dispute.
After a previous hearing in March over discovery in the case, the judge chided listeners more gently, noting that “several unauthorized recordings were made.” Local rules for the Manhattan-based federal court state that “no one other than court officials engaged in the conduct of court business shall…make an audio or video recording of any proceeding or any communication with the court, an employee of the court or any person acting at the direction of the court, including a mediator,” she stated. Violation of court orders can be treated as contempt, and punished with prison time.
Although judicial proceedings are generally presumed to be open to the public, U.S. federal courts in particular are persnickety about what kinds of access the public can have. Prior to the pandemic, when courts started to rely increasingly on telephonic hearings, members of the public usually had to show up in person if they wanted to see for themselves what was going on. Per typical courthouse rules, people usually had to surrender electronic devices to security when entering federal courthouses, and were forbidden from attempting to record or photograph anything.
This contrasts with many state courts, where individual judges can be more open to permitting television cameras in their courtrooms for trials or other high-profile events.
(Transcripts, generated by official court reporters, are usually somewhat complicated and expensive to obtain, costing as much as $8 per page. Lengthy hearings can easily be dozens or hundreds of pages.)
Meanwhile, as many as 10,000 XRP holders have been trying to stay on top of every sliver of action in the SEC case, causing the price of the cryptocurrency to fluctuate as speculators gauge whether things are looking better for Ripple or the regulator. (Spoiler alert: It’s probably too soon to tell.) A conference call line, made available to the public for hearings, can accommodate 4,000 listeners — far below the number people wanting to follow along, or at least show support.
“Congratulations XRP People,” lawyer Jeremy Hogan tweeted Friday. “By the start of the hearing today the telephone system MAXED OUT at 4K listeners! The Court is very aware of the “High Interest” in the case (quote from Judge Netburn). MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”
Regardless of who wins in SEC v. Ripple, perhaps the crypto community can strengthen a push for more open access to legal proceedings.