Archive for the ‘legislation and regulation’ Category

Would Bloggers Be Covered By a Federal Shield Law?

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Since the news of the Justice Department getting their hands on phone records of the Associated Press – without the AP’s cooperation – there has been new talk of a federal shield law.

But how broad would the shield law be? To cut to the chase: Would if cover bloggers?

The issue was nicely teed up in a PandoDaily post yesterday by Adam L. Penenberg:

[W]hen you’re trying to craft laws to protect journalists from having to disclose the identities of confidential sources, the first thing you must do is define what a journalist is. Unfortunately, that’s not so easy, because, well, what is a journalist? I’ve been working as one for almost 20 years, and I couldn’t give you a definition. What’s more, I don’t know anyone who could. More to the point, how do you cover everyone who should be covered in this day, when everybody can be his or her own publisher but not cover those who shouldn’t be protected?

Mr. Penenberg’s post does a nice job of exploring the range of possible ways to deal with that question in surveying some of the many state shield laws in the U.S. and giving some of the history of how false starts on a federal shield law in recent years have dealt with the blogger question.

Of course, there’s also the separate scope question of a national-security exception. With such an exception, the question of who counts as a journalist may often be academic.

“Diabetes Warrior” Challenges North Carolina Licensing Board’s Attempt to Restrict his Blogging

Monday, April 22nd, 2013
Steve Cooksey's before-and-after photos.

Steve Cooksey's before-and-after photos. (From his blog.)

A North Carolina diabetic blogger’s lawsuit may help answer the question of when occupational licensing laws can be used to restrict speech.

The blogger, Steve Cooksey, runs Diabetes Warrior, which answers questions sent in my readers about how to manage their disease.

It’s not surprising that Cooksey has raised eyebrows. His advice is decidedly anti-establishment.

“[Y]ou know that we have been lied to by Big Food, Big Pharma and the medical industry,” he tells his readers, “including doctors, diabetes educators, dietitians and nutritionists.”

Cooksey’s slogan is, “Diabetes Management from a Paleolithic Perspective.” Instead of insulin treatment, Cooksey advocates a “primal” diet – one patterned after what humans from the Stone Age would have eaten. His chief claim to expertise on the matter is his own experience as a diabetic. He blogs, “I have not taken a drug since March 2009. I have weaned off drugs and insulin completely… and I have normal blood sugar.”

A month after starting his blog in 2011, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition informed him he was engaging in the unlicensed practice of dietetics. As his public-interest law firm, The Institute for Justice, explains it:

[T]he State Board informed Steve that he could not give readers advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics. The State Board also told Steve that his private emails and telephone calls with readers and friends were illegal, as was his paid life-coaching service. The State Board went through Steve’s writings with a red pen, indicating what he may and may not say without a government-issued license.

So Cooksey sued to vindicate a free-speech right to blog as he sees fit.

He was dealt an early blow when a federal district court dismissed his case for lack of an injury. But the case is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Cooksey quotes his attorney, Jeff Rowes, as saying:

Under the First Amendment, a citizen is injured by the mere existence of a statute that regulates speech. And there are literally dozens of Supreme Court and federal appellate cases saying that you have standing when the government actually tells you that your speech is illegal. The courts have a very relaxed standard for bringing a First Amendment case because the right to free speech is considered to be so important.

Once the court of appeals recognizes that this is a First Amendment case, we expect it to rule that we have standing and send the case back to the district court to be litigated as a free-speech case.

I think occupational licensing, in general, is okay. It is sometimes badly needed to protect consumers from rank incompetence. But such statutes can conflict with free speech. And in this case, it seems to me that the North Carolina licensing authority has indeed gone beyond regulating a profession and has entered into the business of censorship.

(Another case along the same lines is that of Horace Hunter, an attorney in Virginia.)

Sadly, CISPA Passes U.S. House

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

U.S. Capitol dome in daytimeToday, sadly, the U.S. House of Representatives passed CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (roll call).

The EFF, TechDirt, and the ACLU have explained why CISPA is bad. Basically, it tramples on civil liberties to give government the all clear to go spelunking through your personal data without a warrant.

CISPA now goes to the Senate. Please consider taking a moment to contact your senators to urge them to vote no on CISPA.

Revising the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in the Wake of Aaron Swartz’s Death

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Headshot of Rep. Zoe Lofgren

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.)

Movements are afoot to revise the law that was being used to prosecute good-guy hacker Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide last month under the threat of decades in jail.

It’s a crazy world when violating a website’s terms of service can potentially subject you to more prison time than murdering someone. But that’s what the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, in its current form, allows.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Democrat from Silicon Valley, sought comment on Reddit on her plan to introduce Aaron’s Law. She has now posted a revised draft of the bill [pdf].

TechCruch has some news on how the proposal is developing.

The most illuminating piece on the Aaron Swartz case and federal prosecutors’ overreaching is by Jennifer Granick, Aaron’s friend and a former federal defender. It’s broken into two parts. I really can’t recommend Jennifer’s post enough – it’s the best blogging I’ve read in many months.

Related:

Blog Law Blog: Aaron Swartz, Champion of Online Freedom, Dead at 26

PrawfsBlawg: JSTOR: What is it Good For?

Andrew F. Sellars, Citizen Media Law Project: The Impact of “Aaron’s Law” on Aaron Swartz’s Case

2012 Election Coverage from a Blog Law Perspective

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

vote button red white and blue over American flagAs promised, here’s your blog-law-focused election coverage:

Barack Obama, a critic of SOPA, beat Mitt Romney, a foe of net neutrality, for President of the United States.

The main Congressional race of interest from a blog-law perspective is still to call at this hour. But Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, sponsor of the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, is trailing Democratic challenger Raul Ruiz by 48.6% to 51.4% with 66.5% reporting. Mack, widow of entertainer Sonny Bono, for whom the copyright term extension law was named, was also an early proponent of SOPA, those she later said the bill raised “legitimate concerns.”

Other key players in internet law won re-election easily.

Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren from Silicon Valley, who is one of the strongest members of Congress when it comes to resisting legislation that threatens blogs and the internet, was re-elected with 72.4% of votes cast.

Republican Representative Darrell Issa, a very vocal critic of SOPA, handily won re-election in the California 49th.

Republican Representative Lamar S. Smith, the House Judiciary Committee Chair and chief advocate of SOPA, cruised to re-election in the Texas 21st by a margin of 25 points.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, sponsor of the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, was re-elected from Utah.

Court treats degrading online postings as protected free-speech opinions

Friday, October 19th, 2012

From contributing blogger John S. Merculief II –

A California appellate court has affirmed a lower court’s ruling granting a woman’s anti-SLAPP motion against her daughter’s ex-husband regarding online postings the woman made about him.

The genesis of Darren Chaker’s lawsuit against Nicole Mateo and her mother, Wendy, was apparently a contentious custody battle in Texas courts regarding the former couple’s child. This battle appears to have helped prompt Wendy Mateo’s online comments, which in turn led to Chaker’s defamation suit.

In granting Wendy Mateo’s anti-SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”) motion to strike the defamation suit, the appellate court affirmed that she was merely exercising her First Amendment right to free speech in the matter.

Principally at issue in the case of Chaker v. Mateo, No. D058753, 2012 WL4711885 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 4, 2012) were the online postings of Wendy Mateo regarding ex-son-in-law Chaker’s business practices and moral character. Examples:
  • “This guy is … a deadbeat dad.”
  • “He may be taking steroids so who knows what could happen.”
  • “He uses people, is into illegal activities, etc.”
  • Varied accusations of fraud, deceit, picking up street walkers, and homeless drug addicts
The court found that the postings, while not on sites that were truly interactive, were at least on the internet, which functions as a worldwide bulletin board (read: public forum):
  • Something called “Ripoff Report,” which describes itself as “a worldwide consumer reporting Web site and publication, by consumers, for consumers, to file and document complaints about companies or individuals.”
  • A social networking site into which Chaker had inserted himself by posting a professional profile (the opinion styles him as working in “forensics”).
As such, the court found that the comments Wendy Mateo posted were of public interest, regarding each forum.
But the court went on to conclude that the statements were nonactionable opinions (or, in other words, free speech) rather than actionable statements of fact by considering the statements’ contexts – internet forums – as likely places for opinions rather than facts, and not so much their content: “In determining statements are nonactionable opinions, a number of recent cases have relied heavily on the fact that statements were made in Internet forums.”
In fact, in analogizing to a prior case it handled in which a defendant had posted nine claims against a bank and its CEO in an expletive-laced rant, the court said:
In finding the defendant’s statements were nonactionable opinions, the [prior] court relied in part on the fact they were posted on the Internet Craigslist “Rants and Raves” Web site and lacked “ ‘the formality and polish typically found in documents in which a reader would expect to find facts.’” Summit Bank v. Rogers, 206 Cal.App.4th 669, 696–701, 142 Cal.Rptr.3d 40 (2012).
Here’s a review of California’s anti-SLAPP statute (Cal Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16). According to the court’s opinion:
The statute, as subsequently amended, provides in part:
  • (b)(1) A cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim. …
  • “ ‘(e) As used in this section, “act in furtherance of a person’s right of petition or free speech … in connection with a public issue” includes: … (3) any written or oral statement or writing made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest. …
Note that the statute sets up a two-part test. In plain terms, first, the defendant must show that the statement that the plaintiff complains of qualifies as free speech in connection with a public issue.
If the defendant succeeds with Step One, the case is not necessarily resolved: The plaintiff must then show that he at least has a reasonable chance of prevailing if the case goes to trial, in order for the case to proceed from there.
Here, the court found that Wendy Mateo’s online postings fit the criteria for California’s anti-SLAPP statute.
Further, the court found that the postings were in online forums where people do not expect to read factual information.
As such, the court foreclosed on Chaker’s defamation suit by concluding that Wendy Mateo’s online postings are nonactionable opinions, i.e. free speech.
Left unanswered, though, is the question of what to do about the reality that many people treat online forums as sources of fact. More on this in a follow-up post, coming soon.

Australia’s Attempts to Curtail Twitter Bullies Ineffectual

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

The Canberra Times is reporting that the leader of New South Wales is asking the Australian federal government for tighter controls on what are called Twitter “trolls.”

The request is in response to an incident in which a star rugby player received an anonymous vulgar Tweet regarding his mother, who died of pancreatic cancer.

To put this in context, online abuses that get almost universal disapproval here in the United States – but that are protected speech under the U.S. Constitution – are actually out of bounds under Australian law, according to the newspaper:

A Twitter user or troll found to ”menace, harass or cause offence” using the social networking medium could be jailed for up to three years.

A person can be prosecuted under this section if they use a ”carriage service” – essentially, any communication device – to pressure another person, in a way that would be regarded by ”reasonable persons” as being ”menacing, harassing, or offensive”.

There are also laws at state level that can be used to stamp out offensive online behaviour.

But there’s one major caveat. Because these “trolls” set up bogus accounts to do their dirty deeds and then deactivate them quickly, it seems that no one has actually been prosecuted for their Twitter behavior.

Your CA Privacy Rights on Pandora

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Pandora logoJust noticed this on Pandora: The page footer contains a link to “Your CA Privacy Rights,” which takes you to this:

California Civil Code Section 1798.83 permits users who are California residents to request and obtain from us once a year, free of charge, a list of the third parties to whom we disclosed their personal information (if any) for direct marketing purposes in the preceding calendar year and the categories of personal information disclosed to those third parties. If you wish to make such a request or have any questions about Pandora’s information sharing practices, you may contact us by sending us an email at pandora-support@pandora.com or write to us at Pandora Media, Inc., 2101 Webster Street, Suite 1650 Oakland, CA 94612, Attn: Listener Support.

As the text discloses, this is the fruit of California Civil Code § 1793.83. It’s an internet era law, dating back to 2005, that puts obligations on businesses who disclose personal customer data to third parties that then use that data for direct marketing.

When I start to read the statute, I get that feeling I so often get when I read California statutes, of wanting to spite my eyeballs for what they are seeing. It’s not only confusing, it’s not even clearly confusing. Which is to say it’s confusing in a confusing way. After I read it, I’m not even clear on how I’m confused. So I really don’t want to try to explain to you what the statute requires because I’m not sure what it requires, and I’m not even sure I could be sure if I spent a lot of time on it.

A business required to comply with this section shall, at its election, do at least one of the following:

(A) Notify all agents and managers who directly supervise employees who regularly have contact with customers of the designated addresses or numbers or the means to obtain those addresses or numbers and instruct those employees that customers who inquire about the business’s privacy practices or the business’s compliance with this section shall be informed of the designated addresses or numbers or the means to obtain the addresses or numbers.

(B) Add to the home page of its Web site a link either to a page titled “Your Privacy Rights” or add the words “Your Privacy Rights” to the home page’s link to the business’s privacy policy. If the business elects to add the words “Your Privacy Rights” to the link to the business’s privacy policy, the words “Your Privacy Rights” shall be in the same style and size as the link to the business’s privacy policy. If the business does not display a link to its privacy policy on the home page of its Web site, or does not have a privacy policy, the words “Your Privacy Rights” shall be written in larger type than the surrounding text, or in contrasting type, font, or color to the surrounding text of the same size, or set off from the surrounding text of the same size by symbols or other marks that call attention to the language. The first page of the link shall describe a customer’s rights pursuant to this section and shall provide the designated mailing address, e-mail address, as required, or toll-free telephone number or facsimile number, as appropriate. If the business elects to add the words “Your California Privacy Rights” to the home page’s link to the business’s privacy policy in a manner that complies with this subdivision, and the first page of the link describes a customer’s rights pursuant to this section, and provides the designated mailing address, electronic mailing address, as required, or toll-free telephone or facsimile number, as appropriate, the business need not respond to requests that are not received at one of the designated addresses or numbers.

(C) Make the designated addresses or numbers, or means to obtain the designated addresses or numbers, readily available upon request of a customer at every place of business in California where the business or its agents regularly have contact with customers.

Really, do they just go with their first draft of these things? Because I’m not sure most people could write such a confusing first draft. They must draft a first draft and then do some undrafting work on it to walk it back.

I know, I keep railing on California statutes over and over and over and over.

At any rate, I note that Pandora is saying “Your CA Privacy Rights” rather than “Your Privacy Rights” or “Your California Privacy Rights.” Risky, I guess. Or not. Hard to tell.

Anyway, I e-mailed Pandora to ask for a disclosure under the law – and I disclosed that I am not a California resident, but I’d appreciate it all the same if they would honor it – and I’ll post a follow-up here.

On the Radio Talking About SOPA!

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Guess what I did today! I was on the radio talking about SOPA! Not an internet radio station, but a real stick-in-the-ground over-the-airwaves AM radio station: KNOX 1310 Grand Forks, a talk program hosted by Brian Michaels and Denny Johnson.

Has the MPAA and RIAA finally overreached when a law professor is on a midday radio show talking about INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY? Yup, I think so.

Thanks to the blackout against SOPA, and mostly Wikipedia’s part in it, Copyright’s suddenly become a mainstream political issue. The blackout against SOPA was even on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams last night! How about that?

Down Against SOPA

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Today, Congress is considering passage of SOPA – the Stop Online Piracy Act – legislation that would destroy the free architecture of the internet and initiate censorship.

I’m blacking out Blog Law Blog for the day to join with many others in showing symbolically what the internet could look like if this bill becomes law.

If you are in the U.S., please take a moment to contact your representative to register your opposition.

Blackouts Tomorrow for SOPA and PIPA

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Wikipedia is planning to blackout its whole site tomorrow as a protest to SOPA and PIPA – those internet censorship-in-the-name-of-fighting-intellectual-property-piracy bills on Capitol Hill. I know other websites are planning or contemplating the same.

I think I’ll do the same here on Blog Law Blog. I just have to figure out how to do it in terms of the code on the back end. If you are planning to join in, read up on how to do it the right way so you stay friendly to search engines.

White House Blogs in Response to Anti-SOPA Petitions

Monday, January 16th, 2012

The White House has responded to online petitioning done by opponents of SOPA. In a blog post, IP czar Victoria Espinel, U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra, and national cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt wrote:

While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.

That’s very good to hear.

SOPA Stopped – For Now

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Under a wave of phone calls and social-media attention, Lamar Smith (R-Texas) abruptly called an end to the hearings on SOPA, saying they would be rescheduled for the future. Lamar Smith is a toughie. So getting him to take a step backward is quite an accomplishment!

More:

Please Call Right Now to Stop SOPA

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

CALL NOW - Capitol HillThis is it. This is the time to make your voice heard on Capitol Hill before the disastrous Stop Online Piracy Act is passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Go to EFF’s action page on SOPA and type in your zip code to instantly get the phone number of your rep. And you can bet I’ve called.

SOPA is a threat to blog freedom and internet freedom in American and abroad.

Make the call, and blog on!

This is a Key Week in the Fight Against SOPA

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

This is a key week in the fight against SOPA – a sledgehammer law, ostensibly to fight copyright infringement, that would be a disaster for bloggers and for the internet in general. The bill is approaching a vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Please consider taking some time learn about the issue, and if your member of Congress is on the House Judiciary Committee (list below), please write them!

The Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society (where I am an affiliate scholar), recently hosted a panel discussion called What’s Wrong with SOPA? You can now watch the video of the event.

Julie Ahrens of CIS did a really nice post explaining concisely why SOPA is such a bad idea, broken down into five points:

1. SOPA violates due process.
2. SOPA censors lawful speech.
3. SOPA breaks the Internet’s infrastructure.
4. SOPA blows up the safe harbor.
5. SOPA kills innovation.

She provides an explanation and cites to further reading for each.

Here is the membership of the House Judiciary Committee. If your rep is on here, please call and e-mail!

Adams – (R) Florida, 24th
Amodei – (R) Nevada, 2nd
Berman – (D) California, 28th
Chabot – (R) Ohio, 1st
Chaffetz – (R) Utah, 3rd
Chu – (D) California, 32nd
Coble – (R) North Carolina, 6th
Cohen – (D) Tennessee, 9th
Conyers Jr. – Ranking Member – (D) Michigan, 14th
Deutch – (D) Florida, 19th
Forbes – (R) Virginia, 4th
Franks – (R) Arizona, 2nd
Gallegly – (R) California, 24th
Gohmert – (R) Texas, 1st
Goodlatte – (R) Virginia, 6th
Gowdy – (R) South Carolina, 4th
Griffin – (R) Arkansas, 2nd
Issa – (R) California, 49th
Jackson Lee – (D) Texas, 18th
Johnson – (D) Georgia, 4th
Jordan – (R) Ohio, 4th
King – (R) Iowa, 5th
Lofgren – (D) California, 16th
Lungren – (R) California, 3rd
Marino – (R) Pennsylvania, 10th
Nadler – (D) New York, 8th
Pence – (R) Indiana, 6th
Pierluisi – (D) Puerto Rico, Resident Commissioner
Poe – (R) Texas, 2nd
Polis – (D) Colorado, 2nd
Quayle – (R) Arizona, 3rd
Quigley – (D) Illinois, 5th
Ross – (R) Florida, 12th
S?nchez – (D) California, 39th
Scott – (D) Virginia, 3rd
Sensenbrenner Jr. – (R) Wisconsin, 5th
Smith – Chairman – (R) Texas, 21st
Waters – (D) California, 35th
Watt – (D) North Carolina, 12th

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Backing SOPA Even as Members Back Away from the Chamber

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Declan McCullagh at CNET has a worthwhile post about one lobbying group’s puzzling and unfortunate support for SOPA:

The Chamber claims SOPA is good for businesses, but the businesses that oppose it include eBay, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, AOL, and LinkedIn. Yahoo has quit the Chamber now, and the Consumer Electronics Association and Google may soon do the same.

Please Help Stop SOPA

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

STOP SOPA

Something very bad may be about to happen to the internet.

The United States Congress, which is currently slightly more popular than the rabies virus, may be on the brink of passing the Stop Online Piracy Act, an outrage that attempts to placate big Hollywood content industries by selling out freedom on the internet.

I’ll be writing about SOPA (and PIPA, as it’s known in the Senate) in upcoming posts. Please take the time to educate yourself and call your representatives.

Also, consider adding a STOP SOPA badge to your website. Feel free to swipe them off of this blog – I handmade these (entirely independently), so I can and hereby do license them to you. And then link them to one of the many explanations out there for why SOPA presents such extreme peril.

Rights of Photojournalists to Take Photos in Public

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

People who like to take random photos in public places (like these unfortunate ACLU plaintiffs) are subject to harassment by law enforcement. They shouldn’t be. But they are.

While there is a fair amount of material providing general legal guidance focused on the writing side of blogging (such as at CMLP and EFF), there is a paucity of material advising you on what you can and can’t get away with using a camera.

The best resource I’ve found – although about six years old – is this legal memorandum [pdf] from Kurt Wimmer and John Blevins at the law firm of Covington & Burling, done for the National Press Photographers Association. From the memo:

In summary, we find that there is no federal law that justifies the broad prohibitions that are being imposed on photography in public areas. There is no new federal law, including the Patriot Act, that restricts photography of public buildings and installations on the basis of concerns over terrorism. Restrictions of photojournalism that proceed on this basis may constitute violations of journalists’ First Amendment right to gather news.

I’ll think I’ll print out a copy and put it in my camera bag.

More:

Playing Simon Says: California’s Crazy, Crazy Reader Privacy Act

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Electronic Simon game from the 1980sGetting a subpoena is a highly unpleasant experience.

A subpoena is a legal document that commands you to hand over documents or appear someplace at a certain time to answer questions under oath. Subpoenas are necessary to get the business of our civil justice system done, but they can make the IRS seem like an old friend by comparison.

And that makes for what I think is the biggest problem with the Reader Privacy Act, a new California law intended to increase people’s privacy with regard to what books they choose to read. (More problems here and here.) To accomplish this, the new law puts certain requirements on any online “book service” provider (which, oddly, might include a blog) that receives a subpoena seeking information on any of the provider’s readers. The requirements are that before complying with the the subpoena, the “book service” provider must give notice to any reader whose information is sought and/or the provider must make a number of determinations about the legal appropriateness of the subpoena.

So, for instance, a provider covered under the law is not allowed to comply with a qualifying subpoena unless the provider first gives 35-day advance notice to the reader about the reader’s ability to seek a motion to quash the subpoena. §1798.90(c)(2)(B)(iv).

Just think about that for a minute: The subpoena is an order issued by a court commanding a person to do something. But under this new law, a person is prohibited by law from obeying that court order unless and until the person fulfills certain requirements.

You would think, if you got a court order, you’d be safe in obeying it. But not so!

And that’s crazy. That’s more than just crazy. That’s the Crazy Suite at the Hotel Crazy.

But wait, it actually gets crazier.

Under §1798.90(c)(1), it is illegal for a covered “book service” provider to obey a subpoena commanding the disclosure of information to a law enforcement agency unless the law enforcement agency has met two conditions and the court itself has met three conditions. For instance, you can’t obey a subpoena under the law unless the court first “finds that the law enforcement entity seeking disclosure has a compelling interest in obtaining the personal information sought.” §1798.90(c)(1)(B).

Yes, that means it’s illegal for you to do something the court is commanding you to do unless the court made a certain finding before hand. To be quite plain, it is unlawful for you to comply with a court order demanding that you cooperate with law enforcement.

That’s beyond crazy. That’s No. 1 Crazy Street, Crazy City, Crazyland, U.S.A.

The only precedent I can think for whackitude like this is the children’s game of Simon Says. In Simon Says, the leader barks commands preceded by the words “Simon says.” If you obey a command that is not preceded by the words “Simon says,” you’re out.

It’s silly, but that’s what makes it fun. For children. Who are playing.

But it’s not fun for the California legislature to do this. It’s not fun at all.

If the California legislature thinks the courts and the police are out of control, then – I hate to have to point out the obvious here – they can put restrictions on the courts and the police. That only makes sense.

Instead, the California legislature has made it illegal for people to cooperate with the police and the courts when the police and courts are, in the legislature’s judgment, going too far.

But wait. It gets CRAZIER still. Look at this provision:

A provider shall disclose personal information of a user to a law enforcement entity only pursuant to a court order issued by a duly authorized court with jurisdiction over an offense that is under investigation and only if …
[p]rior to issuance of the court order, the law enforcement entity seeking disclosure provides, in a timely manner, the provider with reasonable notice of the proceeding to allow the provider the opportunity to appear and contest issuance of the order.

§1798.90(c)(1)(D).

That’s right: It’s illegal for you to obey the subpoena if the police didn’t inform you of your right to contest the subpoena.

That’s like making it illegal for a suspect to answer questions while in police custody if the police failed to inform the suspect of the suspect’s right to remain silent.

That’s P.O. Box Crazy Crazy Crazy, Crazytown Station, Crazy Valley Acres, California 95814.

Unfounded Allayances for a Misarchitected Law

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Huge pile of building rubbleMisarchitected.
(Photo: EEJ)

Over at Technology & Marketing Law Blog, Eric Goldman has written that the just-enacted California Reader Privacy Act may impose a new burden on individual bloggers who are on the receiving end of subpoenas. Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer with Public Citizen, a leading public-interest law firm, doesn’t agree. Levy says that the phrase “commercial entity” in the bill could not be construed to cover individuals because, individuals can’t be “entities.”

In this post, I’m going to take issue with what Levy says, and I’m going to offer some things to bolster Goldman’s critique.

Let me note at the outset that Levy is a heavy-hitting litigator who fights the good fight. He’s on the right side of battle after battle, doing pro bono impact litigation that makes our world a better place. So, I’m certainly not at odds with Levy in the greater scheme of things. But I do think that Goldman points out a serious flaw in California’s new privacy law, one that is bad for bloggers, and one that’s worth dwelling on for a bit.

Also, I’m a California litigator. I’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over California statutes. I’ve come to believe that California statutory law needs some watchdogging. So I offer my comments in that vein.

Here’s Levy’s argument that the statute won’t apply to individual bloggers:

… Professor Goldman ignores the limiting impact of the word “entity.” An individual is not an entity; rather, an entity is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as an organization whose identity is separate from its members.

First, while a dictionary can be helpful resource for readers stumbling across unfamiliar legal words, it is not, at least in my view, a particularly persuasive foundation for interpreting a statute. Regardless, however, I don’t think the definition that Levy cites excludes natural persons. If you look at the whole definition, it clearly says that an entity can have a separate legal existence from its members, but the definition doesn’t say that a natural person can’t be an entity.

At any rate, dictionary definitions are really beside the point. The fact is, there’s a plentitude of legal precedents considering “entity” to embrace an individual person. For instance, many statutory schemes explicitly define “entity” to embrace an individuals. One prominent example is the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. See, 11 U.S.C. § 101(14).

Moreover, courts have plainly used the word “entity” to refer to an individual person. In discussing what the word “individual” meant, for instance, New York’s high court held, “An individual is one entity, one distinct being, a single one, and when spoken of the human kind means one man or one woman.” People v. Doty, 35 Sickels 225, 1880 WL 12385 (N.Y. 1880).

In defining “sole proprietorship,” a D.C. court used the word “entity,” saying, “A sole proprietorship is an entity that is so identified with its owner that the business either must undergo a fundamental change or cease to exist upon the owner’s death or retirement.” Hunter Innovations Co. v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Connecticut, 605 F. Supp. 2d 170, 173 (D.D.C. 2009).

Levy makes other arguments, however:

The statute itself confirms this construction, in that it limits any disclosure (voluntary or compelled) to a “government entity,” but limits compelled disclosure to “any person, private entity, or government entity.”

This is a helpful argument, one which I find somewhat persuasive. But it’s not the end of the matter. The fact is, “person” under the law frequently includes such entities as corporations. Often – I would even say most of the time – when the law means an individual human being, and not things such as corporations, the law uses the term “natural person.” In fact, a neighboring section of the California Civil Code, Section 1798.3, says that “‘individual’ means a natural person” and “‘person’ means any natural person, corporation,partnership, limited liability company, firm, or association.” If “person” includes “corporation,” that arguably makes the term “private entity” redundant of “person,” except that ”person” might embrace a public corporation (i.e., a corporation with publicly traded shares), whereas, perhaps, “private entity” would not.

All of this going around in circles, of course, just illustrates that this statute is poorly drafted. It’s another home run by the folks in the California Legislature. I wish someone would come up with a ballot initiative to force the California Legislature to employ a huge army of well-paid staff to draft and analyze legislative language. It would be worth every penny. The alternative is half-baked text or the made-to-order work product of lobbyists. (Although, with the ACLU, EFF, and (ahem) Google lobbying for this, you’d think made-to-order language would have been pretty good.)

Okay, let’s go on to Levy’s next argument:

A similar understanding that an individual is not an entity is shown by the fact that “government entity” is defined to include any “state or local agency” or “any individual acting or purporting to act for or on behalf of a state or local agency.” If “government entity” included individuals, this last clause would not be needed[.]

Hmmm. I get exactly the opposite out of that. By including individuals within the term “government entity,” the legislature, it seems to me, shows that it understands individual persons to qualify as a kind of entity.

Levy’s bottom line:

So the individual blogger is plainly off the hook as a “commercial entity.” A corporation that blogs, yes. A partnership blogs, yes. But not an individual.

I very much disagree with the phrase “plainly off the hook.” I’d go with “arguably.” Levy makes a fine argument. But, in my mind, that’s all it is: an argument. Take it from me – a member of the California bar who has spent approximately eleventeen bazillion billable hours researching and briefing issues of California statutory interpretation: This is not an easily-disposed-of issue.

But while we are on the subject of phraseology, I note that Goldman’s word for describing the new statute is “misarchitected” – a word which, technically speaking, doesn’t seem to exist. That’s not a knock on Goldman. To the contrary, as I’ve pointed out before, I think it’s part of the job of a law professor to use big words and to even make up new words. Every once in a while, I slip a big, nonexistent word by law-review editors. And count me on board with this one. I’m already thinking about how I can stick misarchitected into one of my working manuscripts.

In the meantime, when it comes to the Reader Privacy Act, I simply do not find Levy’s allayances persuasive. Thus, I must offer the California Legislature my regretulations on a job not-super-well-done.

Later this week, I’ll explain my biggest problem with the Reader Privacy Act.

More from me:

Yikes! Is My Blog Regulated By California’s Reader Privacy Act? Is Yours?

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Looking up at the California capitol dome on a sunny day
The California Capitol. (Photo: EEJ)

Well, this is terrifying.

Eric Goldman, in a new blog post, hypothesizes that California’s newly enacted Reader Privacy Act could be read to impose statutory requirements on bloggers. The law requires “book services” to give notice to persons who are the target of a personal-information-seeking subpoena served on the book service. In other words, if someone throws a subpoena at an online book service in order to find out what books someone is reading, the book service has to first reach out to that someone before turning over the information.

So far, that doesn’t sound too bad.

But where Professor Goldman gets alarmed … (Let me just pause to note that while I would feel comfortable calling Eric Goldman by his first name, if I start saying “Eric argues” or “where Eric gets alarmed” on this blog, people are going to think I’m talking about myself in the third person. And while I’m generally okay with people thinking I’m a bit eccentric, I don’t want people thinking I’ve got the mindset of a marginal presidential candidate who is slowly losing touch with reality.)

So, anyway, as I was saying, where Professor Goldman gets alarmed is in looking carefully at who qualifies as a “book service” and who is therefore is obligated under the new law:

Let’s look closely at who is required to comply with the law — recognizing that the statute has a private cause of action that will be enforced by a rapacious privacy plaintiffs’ bar.

What?!? A “rapacious” plaintiffs’ bar?!? In CALIFORNIA?!?!? I can’t believe that. Anyway, as Goldman was saying …

[C]learly this covers Amazon and other online book retailers. But in this day and age, what is a “book” and, more importantly, what isn’t? The statute defines a book as:

paginated or similarly organized content in printed, audio, electronic, or other format, including fiction, nonfiction, academic, or other works of the type normally published in a volume or finite number of volumes, excluding serial publications such as a magazine or newspaper

… [W]hat about blogs? Are they “book services”? Before you discount the latter, consider that many blogs are, in fact, paginated (at least in the URL–see Blog Law Blog as an example).

Isn’t that awesome? I did a nested double-blockquote! Who knew you could even do that? Hey, wait a minute! That’s ME he’s talking about! AIYEEEAAHHH?!?!? There’s nothing like waking up in the morning and finding out that the California legislature has just done something that might expose you to private plaintiffs’ actions.

But wait, I can actually breathe a sigh of relief, because I’m pretty confident I don’t count as a “commercial entity” under the law. And since I’m not a commercial entity, the law’s requirements don’t apply to me.

But what about you, dear reader? Does your blog have advertisements on it? Even AdSense or Amazon affiliate links could, in Goldman’s view, possibly expose a blogger to “commercial entity” status.

And that’s just one more reason not to have ads on your site. As I said in regards to the question of whether having an ad-bearing blog imposes tax liability (in a post that my WordPress installation faithlessly labeled “page 1075“):

My advice for most bloggers is this: Dump the ads. Why bother putting ads on your blog unless it is going to make you substantial amounts of money? Ads clutter up blogs. They look terrible, and they are often for products that are either ridiculous (like herbal cures) or kindov depressing (like life insurance). That detracts from a user’s experience. And if ads cause you to have legal trouble – and even trying to figure out if you have legal trouble is a kind of legal trouble – then you should flush them down the drain.

I’ll have more to say on California’s Reader Privacy Act in posts this week. I’ll weigh in on the debate between Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen and Goldman about whether an individual can be an “entity’ under the new act. I’ll also explain my biggest problem with the new law.

Judge Posner Worried By Mic-Wielding Bloggers

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Hon. Richard A. Posner (Photo: U. Chicago)

Illinois has an eavesdropping and wiretapping statute that prohibits making an audio recording of any conversation without the consent of all persons involved. This applies not only over the phone or in a private place, but even in a public place. And even when the conversation is with public officials concerning a matter of public concern. Violations can be prosecuted as felonies, and civil suits are authorized as well.

If you don’t think that sounds constitutional, I’m inclined to agree. And so is the ACLU, who is suing on behalf of several people arrested for secretly recording on-duty police officers. The civil liberties group is challenging the law in ACLU v. Alvarez.

On appeal to the federal Seventh Circuit, the ACLU faced questioning by a panel that included America’s most famous federal circuit judge, the Hon. Richard A. Posner. His questioning was alarming. Just 14 words into his argument, ACLU lawyer Richard O’Brien was interrupted with this:

“Yeah, I know … But I’m not interested, really, in what you want to do with these recordings of peoples’ encounters with the police.”

Huh? Really? Ferreting out public corruption, abuse of power, obstruction of justice by those charged to guard it – all that sounds interesting to me.

Posner proceeded to worry about how striking down the law could aid snooping bloggers:

“Once all this stuff can be recorded, there’s going to be a lot more of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers.”

“Is that a bad thing, your honor?”

“Yes, it is a bad thing. There is such a thing as privacy.”

Such a thing as privacy for on-duty police officers? Even when they are in public or interacting with civilians? Gosh, I can’t get behind that.

Justin Silverman at CMLP has an extremely thoughtful post on the matter. He writes, “Posner’s apparent belief that there should be an expectation of privacy for those in public areas discussing matters of public concern is alarming given that it is squarely at odds with the First Amendment. Worse, Posner’s comments smack of condescension for journalists.”

Jonathan Turley also is taken aback. He writes on his blog, “What astonishes me is that government officials are pushing this effort to block this basic right of citizens and perhaps the single most important form of evidence against police abuse. … As someone who admires Posner’s contributions to the law, it is disappointing to read such biased and dismissive comments in a free speech case. For police wondering ‘who will rid us of these meddling citizens?,’ they appear to have one jurist in Illinois not just ready but eager to step forward.”

Unfortunately, the facts of the case show that Turley’s comment is not the hyperbole you wish it were. The story told by one of the plaintiffs in the suit, Tiawanda Moore, is terrifying: She was groped in her home by a Chicago police officer who had responded to a domestic disturbance call. Moore was brave enough to take the issue to internal affairs. But they tried to deflect her complaint and sought to dissuade her from pursuing the matter. In the interests of protecting herself, she began to secretly record her conversations with investigators on her Blackberry.

When the recordings came to light, Moore was arrested and charged with violation of Illinois’s eavesdropping statute. Sadly, prosecutors took the case to trial. But in a strong affirmation of the role of civilian jurors, the jury acquitted her of the charge.

Just a few weeks ago, the First Circuit ruled that there is a constitutional right to record police actions in public places. Hopefully the Seventh Circuit will follow the lead and clear the way for snooping bloggers and sexually harassed citizens alike to be free to record the police in the City of Big Shoulders.

More:

Busy-Body Legislating: California’s New Law on Tweeting Jurors

Thursday, August 25th, 2011
Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes in a suit smiling with arms crossed

Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes, author of California’s latest silly law (Photo: ASMDC)

A new California law signed by Governor Jerry Brown threatens jurors with jail time if they tweet, blog, or otherwise use the internet to communicate about their trial. The bill is the handiwork of Democratic San Fernando Valley Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes.

I’ve looked at the text of the law. At best, it’s silly. At worst, it’s hurtful.

The first thing the law does put an additional requirement on judges when they make their admonishments to the jury. Under Code of Civil Procedure §611, judges already have to explain that jurors are prohibited from talking about, researching, or disseminating information about the trial. The new law requires that judges “clearly explain,” that this admonishment “applies to all forms of electronic and wireless communication.”

Ooooh. Notice how cleverly the law was drafted with the use of the word “clearly”. If judges were merely required to “explain” this to jurors, there would be a huge loophole allowing judges to undermine the spirit of the law by issuing their explanation in an unclear manner.

To drop the sarcasm for a second, this strikes me as pure busy-body lawmaking. There’s no need to micromanage courtroom procedure through statute. Judges are completely capable of fine-tuning admonishments on their own. If this part of the law does anything, it seems to me it might create an argument for throwing out otherwise perfectly good jury verdicts on appeal. If a judge with decades of experience makes the mistake of issuing a standard admonishment, not complying with the technicality of the new law, there now appears to be a basis in statute for tossing the verdict. And even if the judge does the explanation, disappointed litigants can still quibble with the judge’s words, arguing that the issue wasn’t explained “clearly.”

Then there’s the aspect of the new law that’s been given the press coverage: Jail time for tweeting jurors.

Here’s what the new law adds to the list of misdemeanor offenses listed in Code of Civil Procedure §1209:

Willful disobedience by a juror of a court admonishment related to the prohibition on any form of communication or research about the case, including all forms of electronic or wireless communication or research.

Note that before Fuente’s new law, §1209 already made the following a misdemeanor:

When summoned as a juror in a court, neglecting to attend or serve as such, or improperly conversing with a party to an action, to be tried at such court, or with any other person, in relation to the merits of such action, or receiving a communication from a party or other person in respect to it, without immediately disclosing the same to the court[.]

and this:

[a]ny … unlawful interference with the process or proceedings.

The current law seems to cover everything of substance. The only thing the new provision does that I can see is make it a jailable offense to use the internet in such a way that is neither improper nor interfering. I guess I don’t understand why we would want to jail jurors under such circumstances.

Jurors are already the lowliest souls on the schedule of recipients of rights and liberties. Prisoners have more legal safeguards for their rights than jurors. Without committing or even being suspected of a crime, jurors are swept off the streets and detained against their will, their freedoms of expression and association instantly curtailed. Moreover, jurors can made to serve for months on end and can be sequestered from the rest of the world – all without due process. Is it really necessary to slap them around with threats of jail?

I poked around on Felipe Fuentes’s website. I don’t see any press release he’s issued about this regrettably successful project. Maybe he’s not too proud of it.

Last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill similar to this one because he considered current warnings to jurors to be adequate. He had some common sense. I’m sorry to see it gone missing in Sacramento now.

New Dot-Anything Domain Name Policy Lousy for Most Bloggers

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

.blog .painYesterday ICANN – the non-profit stewards of the internet domain name system – announced a long-anticipated decision to let anyone apply to become owners of new top level domains ( TLDs). The top level domains are the last characters in a web address or e-mail address; that is, the characters that go after the final period. The most famous, of course, is .com. Now, the floodgates will be opened.

That means, theoretically, I could own .bloglawblog, allowing me to make my web address bloglawblog.bloglawblog. But that’s very theoretical. Why? Because it’s expensive. Very expensive. An estimated $185,000 to register a TLD.

And I don’t want .bloglawblog that bad.

What this means for most bloggers and citizen journalists, is that they will not have the opportunity get a TLD for themselves. But, they will the exciting opportunity to be placed under siege by profiteers and cybersquatters.

For instance, when applications are accepted in January 2012, you can bet some company will apply to own .blog. Then, that company will soon write to you, saying,

Hello friend! We’ve noticed that you own a blog called Kentucky Trainspotters, and that your domain is kentuckytrainspottersblog.com. For just $500 per year, you can get the kentuckytrainspotters.blog domain!

And if you don’t, we’ll sell it to someone else.

You don’t want that to happen, do you?

For this and many other reasons I won’t go into, I think this stinks. And I’m certainly not alone as a critic.

ICANN is talking about how this will usher in a new era on the internet. That’s silly. The internet is about the content, not the addresses. But it certainly may usher in a new era of headaches. Thanks, ICANN.

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Don’t Get Too Excited About Your Company’s Social Media Debut Yet!

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Headshot of Michelle Sherman and social media logo

Michelle Sherman of law firm Sheppard Mullin blogs about social media law

Michelle Sherman, a lawyer with L.A.’s Sheppard Mullin, has a new blog post Sherman’s post asks the question:

Is Your Company’s Social Media Launch Ahead Of Its Compliance Program?

What a buzz kill, huh? This is why people don’t love lawyers. You’re all excited about your company’s social media debut, and then all of a sudden you remember, OH YEAH, I HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THE LAW!. And then you have to pay by the hour, and all of a sudden you are really grumpy.

But, of course, Michelle is right. Any business going into social media as a way to win customers and make money ought to learn something about the law before they do. There are a lot expensive mistakes you can make.

And why, you may ask, why has the law thrown up a bunch of hurdles that make for those potentially expensive mistakes? It’s because there are a lot of people who want to use social media to rip off customers. So, basically, the unscrupulous folks out there ruin it for everybody. Next time you’re grumpy about legal bills, pause for a moment to send some bad juju the way of the sleazes out there who are the reason so many laws exist.

Anyway, Michelle’s post contains a nice rundown of the FTC v. Twitter lawsuit (settlement recently finalized) and the FTC v. Google Buzz settlement.