Audio/Video Formats:  Thinking Ahead to the Jury

In the old days of VHS tapes and audio cassette tapes we knew what we had and we knew how to play them.  It’s not so easy today with the current digital technology.  For me, it has been an ongoing battle to stress the importance of obtaining audio and video evidence in a standard format but not everyone seems to think it’s important. 

Technology has changed in the way audio and video recordings are captured.  In today’s digital world, audio/video recordings are captured and require various ways to play them back for review.  Receiving audio or video for litigation purposes must be reviewed carefully to ensure that not only we can review it and providing it in discovery to opposing counsel, but also that at some point in the future, we will need a jury to review it in the jury room.  

We need to remind our legal staff about this and ask the question: “How will the jury review this in the jury room when they are deliberating?  Are we going to depend on a juror to know how to play the audio/video recording on a laptop?”

When we had tapes, there wasn’t much thought about this.  If the jurors had a VCR or tape player they could just pop in the tape and press the play button.  It doesn’t always work that easy with formats we get today.  The local police department may provide something in one format while security video footage from a convenience store might be in a different format dictated by the vendor of the security camera.  

Our ability as litigation technology specialists has been made significantly more difficult, if not impossible, when we receive audio or video recordings in a non-standard format that either cannot be played, requires installation of third-party software or executable players on the disc.  Unfortunately we don’t all have the luxury of having a professional recording studio in our office.  That’s why it is vitally important that we have the format for all stages of the litigation process.

We may be tech savvy and can click around to make a third-party software work but what if we are missing an important feature?

When receiving audio or video recordings, there are three things you can do:

  1. Require that the audio or video recording is provided to you in a standard format along with the original recording.  Standard formats would be:  Audio (.wav, .mp3 or .wma) Video (.avi, .mpg, .wmv)
  2. If a standard copy cannot be provided, have the party include instructions or a manual on how to install/operate third-party or proprietary media players.
  3. Ask that non-standard or third-party media players be in a self-contained (i.e. Able to run from a disc or USB drive) without having to download or install software on your computer.

We must be careful with how we handle digital audio and video evidence in litigation.  Unlike the days of tapes, digital formats can be edited with the right software.  We want to be sure that we preserve the quality but we also want to make our attorney staff aware of the issues that could arise later when these formats end up in the hands of the jury.

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