Archive for the ‘resources’ Category

Happy Sesquicentennial, Nevada!

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Outline of Nevada blurred neonMy home state of Nevada is 150 years old today. Abraham Lincoln signed legislation making Nevada a state on October 31, 1864.

To celebrate the Silver State’s Sesquicentennial in Blog Law Blog fashion, here’s a some resources on Nevada blog law:

New Booklet on Citizen Journalism Law in Massachusetts

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Newsgathering in Massachusetts coverHarvard Law School’s Digital Media Law Project and Cyberlaw Clinic have released a booklet called Newsgathering in Massachusetts, available as free-to-download pdf.

It’s an information-packed reference tailor-made for citizen journalists, and it includes coverage of
open meeting laws, public records laws, laws regarding access to courts, and laws regarding protection of anonymous sources.

Massachusetts is an especially interesting state for this area of the law. The Boston-born case of Glik v. Cunniffe, discussed in the booklet, is one of the most important citizen-journalist cases to come down the turnpike in the digital era. In that case, a Simon Glik was arrested in Boston Common for filming the police making an arrest of a homeless man. With the help of the ACLU, he got the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals to recognize a First Amendment right to videotape in public places.

Kudos to DMLP and the Cyberlaw Clinic for putting this together.

The Citizen Media Law Project Has Changed its Name to the Digital Media Law Project

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Harvard Law School’s Citizen Media Law Project

CMLP logo

has changed it’s name. It’s now the Digital Media Law Project.

Digital Media Law Project logo

The change was effective March 1, 2013.

I know this change has been in the works for quite sometime. I remember talking to David Ardia, the program’s founder, about this in March of 2011.

I was a fan of “Citizen Media Law Project” as a name, but I like the new name too. Whether you use the word “citizen” or “digital,” the point is that this goes beyond a “media law project” in that it’s focused on the new reporting opportunities and legal threats that have been created and revealed by the democratization of the news media as fueled by computers and the internet.

I guess you could call it the “Non-Traditional Media Law Project,” but that’s pretty awkward. Even worse, it makes it sound like it’s the project that’s non-traditional, rather than the media. Any good copyeditor – even a non-traditional one – would see the problem with that.

So Digital Media Law Project it is. And the change is more than a change in name. There’s also a change in mission.

As project of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the Citizen Media Law Project was launched in 2007 “to support the vibrant online culture of citizen media and independent journalism by providing free legal advice and information on a wide range of media law, intellectual property and business law issues,” as is explained on the project’s homepage.

With the change to “digital,” the project is acknowledging that reporters with their bona fides – that is, people who can be called “professional journalists” – are now increasingly working online and outside of a traditional media entity. They too face a uniquely challenging legal environment.

“Citizen journalists continue to do excellent work,” wrote Jeffrey P. Hermes, the project’s director, in a blog post about the change, “but professional journalists who believe in the potential of online speech have launched numerous independent ventures as well.”

So DMLP is broadening its focus. Hermes wrote, “Our project is no longer limited to addressing the narrow challenges faced by new and inexperienced entrants into the journalism market, but innovating to provide a comprehensive and mutually supporting set of resources to assist digital journalism as a whole.”

Best wishes to DMLP on their rechristening!

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.


Legal Guide to Blogging Occupy

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Photo: David Shankbone, CC BY 2.0.

The wonderful folks at the Citizen Media Law Project of Berkman Center at Harvard Law School have put together a guide for citizen journalists covering Occupy Wall Street. They have done a tremendous job of going through the relevant law in a very comprehensive, yet very concise way. And it makes for interesting reading even for those who are not planning to go to Zuccotti Park and blog, tweet, or snap pictures for Flickr.

Among the questions they tackle:

  • Do I have the right to record police action at the protest?
  • Do I have a right to record the protesters?
  • May the police search me?
  • May the police seize my camera and view its contents?

Here are just a few interesting tidbits from the guide:

  • “There is no law in New York that prohibits the publication of private facts about individuals, and so you cannot be sued in civil court for publishing such facts” [Other states are contrary –EEJ]
  • “You might also have a specific First Amendment right to record the activities of the police in public. This right has been recognized in jurisdictions outside of New York, and would trump any state law that would otherwise prohibit such recording. However, no New York court has ruled on the existence of this right.” [Wouldn't it be interesting if Occupy Wall Street forced the issue in this jurisdiction? –EEJ]

Where Can a Blogger Get a Lawyer Around Here?

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

A person identifying himself as a friend of blogger Crystal Cox asked in a comment to yesterday’s post where Ms. Cox could find legal counsel. That’s a great question that a lot of folks have. And I am happy to say I have a number of places to suggest for any beleaguered blogger looking for a lawyer to throw them a lifeline:

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society has created, as one of its many projects, the Online Media Legal Network, a network of lawyers, law firms, and law clinics willing to represent qualifying media clients for free (pro bono) or at reduced rates. The list of members reveals a bunch of heavyweights, including Manhattan media-law powerhouse Debevoise & Plimpton. Not only have they represented the New York Times, but they even employed the author of Blog Law Blog as a summer associate back in the late 1990s! How’s that for a claim to fame? Of course, there are a bunch of other stars on OMLN’s roster as well. To get started in seeking representation through OMLN, read up on their process and requirements. They can’t help everyone, but it can’t hurt to ask.

There’s also the 800-pound gorilla, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the granddaddy of public-interest law firms for electronic media. The EFF explains on their website how they select clients and how to contact them about possible representation. If you can get the EFF to represent you, that’s completely fansmashtic! But know ahead of time: Many will apply, few will qualify.

A more general source of information about getting represented can be found in the Citizen Media Law Project’s guide to finding legal help. Information there will help you learn about looking for pro bono representationgoing pro se (representing yourself), or, if it comes to that, hiring a lawyer (as in, paying them money).

Of course, if your problem is the opposite – if you are looking for someone to sue you – then Blog Law Blog recommends, por supuesto, BLOGGING! Especially effective is blogging about people or organizations (1) who are well-off enough to hire a lawyer, and (2) who are not already the target of a torrent of criticism.

So, my friends, lawyer up, and BLOG ON!

Freedom House Report on Censorship-Circumvention Tools

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Report coverFreedom House has released a report called Leaping Over the Firewall: A Review of Censorship Circumvention Tools. China, Iran, Burma, and Azerbaijan are particular focuses.

The EFF Deeplinks blog gave the report a somewhat lukewarm review.

Of course, we can all agree that anything that helps people living under oppressive regimes to obtain a measure of free exchange of ideas is a good thing.

CMLP Legal Guide on DC’s New Anti-SLAPP Law

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

CMLP logoThe Citizen Media Law Project has updated their online legal guide with information about Washington, D.C.’s brand new anti-SLAPP law.

An anti-SLAPP law is a tweak to court procedure that empowers defendants, who have been sued because of something they said about a matter of public interest, to quickly get rid of frivolous lawsuits filed against them. Anti-SLAPP short circuits the usual lengthy and expensive litigation process required to beat back an unmeritorious complaint.

The idea is to prevent the courts from being used as a way to gag critics of the well-lawyered. Thus, anti-SLAPP laws are potentially very important for bloggers.

The CMLP’s legal guide also runs down the anti-SLAPP laws in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington state.

North Dakotans Fighting Back Against Righthaven

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
Stave church in Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, ND

Stave church in Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot (Photo: EEJ)

The latest Righthaven news is that folks in my own state of North Dakota are fighting back against the copyright thugsters. Steve Green of the Las Vegas Sun reports that Righthaven sued Scott Hennen and Rob Port of The Say Anything Blog, based in Minot (rhymes with “Why not?”), North Dakota.

The suit is yet another one claiming copyright infringement for reposting the TSA pat-down photo from the Denver Post. The bloggers, for their part, are claiming fair use of the photo and have filed some kind of counterclaim. I’m not sure what the purpose is in filing these counterclaims. The one set of papers I saw, which was not from Say Anything, counterclaimed for declaratory judgment. Counterclaiming for declaratory judgment is basically turning around and suing the person who sued you in order to get a pronouncement from the court that the person was wrong to sue you in the first place. I just don’t get how that adds anything to winning the original lawsuit. But, at any rate, I I’m glad to see my fellow North Dakotans fighting back.

Finding Pro Bono Legal Counsel for Bloggers

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

OMLN and INN logosThe Online Media Legal Network of Harvard Law’s Berkman Center has announced a partnership with the Investigative News Network to help find pro bono and low-cost legal for INN member organizations.

INN was founded in 2009. Its members are non-profit journalism organizations producing non-partisan investigative news. It’s actively soliciting new applications.

OMLN is a network of lawyers willing to provide free and reduced-fee services to digital media creators, including online journalism ventures. OMLN includes law firms, law school clinics, and solo practioners. Interested lawyers can apply to OMLN to be part of its pro bono network.

Resources on §230

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011


One of the most important laws affecting blogging, at least in the United States, is 47 U.S.C. §230.

Section 230 is a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields online content providers from liability for defamation, invasion of privacy, and other state tort law actions based on the actions of users. So, for instance, §230 can provide immunity for bloggers from lawsuits based on defamatory comments that have been posted by third parties.

To learn more about §230, here are two resources:

Anna Explains How Not to Tweet Your Way to Court

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

SF Weekly and Dear Anna logosCourtney Love’s legal troubles over her Twitter activity inspired a reader to ask Anna Pulley, blogger for SF Weekly, how to avoid getting sued over tweets. Pulley’s answer is here:

Anna’s best advice is this:

“The most important thing you can do to avoid being sued is this: Don’t be an a–hole.”

(The deletion is mine, btw. I don’t mean to be a prude, but I’m blogging from North Dakota. Not everything that flies in  the Bay Area flies here. For example, the annual pantsless BART ride [NSFW*], for a lot of reasons, is unlikely to catch on up here.)

But Pulley is right. You can get all the legal advice in the world. None of it is adds up to the simple wisdom that if you don’t want to get sued, then don’t make someone mad enough to sue you.

* Contains pictures of pantsless people in an urban environment. Safe for work in San Francisco, but may not be safe for work in other areas of the country.

Trademarking Your Blog

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

I talk a lot about copyright on Blog Law Blog. But another – completely different – form of intellectual property that bloggers ought to be aware of is trademark.

You can use trademark, potentially, to protect the name and brand-identity of your blog. Trademark is about reliable indications of the source of goods or services, enabling people and companies to develop and profit from their reputation. Trademark doesn’t protect content, it protects names, symbols, logos, slogans, and other forms of commercial identity that a business uses. (Non-profit enterprises can assert trademarks as well.)

The Citizen Media Law Project has published a new section of their legal guide that provides a lot of information on getting and maintaining trademark rights: Securing Trademark Rights: Ownership and Federal Registration.

A backgrounder on trademark law is available in a “nanotreatise” [pdf] I wrote, which is in my Compendium of Materials for Intellectual Property Law.

Laws Bloggers Can Be Thankful For

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

Photo of pumpkin pie by Peggy Greb of the USDA Agricultural Research ServiceHappy Thanksgiving to bloggers everywhere!

Here are some laws and legal concepts bloggers can be thankful for.

Public domain photograph of pumpkin pie by Peggy Greb, USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Legal Info Online for Bloggers: The Shifting Legal Landscape of Blogging

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Looking for legal guides for bloggers online, one reference that pops up is Jennifer L. Peterson’s article, “The Shifting Legal Landscape of Blogging,” from Wisconsin Lawyer, March 2006. It is a bit old at this point, of course, but it’s well written and provides good analysis.

Let the Sun Shine In

Friday, October 15th, 2010

One of the best legal tools available to bloggers and traditional journalists alike is the Freedom of Information Act.

FOIA, as it’s called, allows anybody to obtain copies of government records upon request. There are exceptions, of course. You can’t get national-security-sensitive classified materials this way, and you can’t get information such as tax returns or medical records that would violate an individual’s right to privacy. But you can get a lot. Once you realize the scope of what the government is required to turn over, it’s truly flabbergasting. We’re lucky to live in such an open society.

The best resource that I know of to help you navigate FOIA is the Federal Open Government Guide from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. RCFP also offers this super handy FOIA letter generator, although I personally would favor a slightly friendlier tone than what comes out of RCFP’s boilerplate. (The civil servant who will read your letter is compelled by law to respond, so you might as well be nice about it.)

You should also know that state governments generally have similar laws, sometimes called “sunshine” or “open records” laws. RCFP has a State Open Government Guide that can let you in on those laws as well.

Erickson Begins Series on Blog Legal Issues

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Megan J. Erickson has started a series of posts on the IowaBiz Business Records blog about legal issues faced by bloggers.

In her first post, she discusses fair use. It’s a very enjoyable post, but I do have to take issue with one thing. In discussing the “nature of the copyrighted work” factor in fair-use analysis, Erickson wrote, “Bloggers may repeat facts or ideas contained in someone else’s online content, but may not copy the particular way in which the original author expressed that information.”

I think it’s important to note that depending on the circumstances, the fair-use doctrine can in fact protect the right of bloggers to say something in exactly “the particular way in which the original author expressed that information.”

The factual or fictional nature of the work can weigh in the fair-use analysis – and Erickson is not alone in emphasizing this – but I think it is important to keep the copying of facts analytically distinct from doctrines of fair use. What do I mean? Copying a fact or an idea is not copyright infringement at all. That is because neither a fact nor an idea is copyrightable subject matter. So fair-use analysis is irrelevant in such a situation. On the other hand, repeating an author’s particular expression may constitute copyright infringement, but that infringement may be excused completely on the basis of the fair-use defense.

I should note that Erickson’s regular blog, Social Networking Law Blog, is not only an interesting read, it’s one of the better looking blogs out there. The graphics package looks fantastic.

Legal Info Online for Bloggers: The New PR’s Bibliography

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

If you’re looking for legal guides for bloggers online, there’s not a whole lot out there. One reference, written for a corporate audience, is this bibliography of sources about blog legal problems from

Righthaven Resentment Popping Up All Over Web

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Some websites and resources popping up about Righthaven:

Righthaven Victims: A blog posting lists of defendants, highlighting defenses, and linking to other Righthaven sites

Scribd Respository of Righthaven Litigation Documents: Scribd is pretty annoying to deal with, but the site does have many court filings that can be downloaded.

Justia Dockets for Righthaven Cases: Shows case numbers, assigned judges, and filing dates. Sweet domain name. A critic’s page of links.

Facebook: stop the LVRJ/RIGHTHAVEN witch hunt!: Liked by 257 people and counting.

And this is inventive: a Firefox plug-in to prevent you from visiting media company sites with ties to Righthaven, described here.

Thanks to commenter LisaMM for pointing a couple of these out.

Legal Info Online for Bloggers: Aviva’s 12 U.S. Laws to Know

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

One online article that turns up high in search engine results for legal aspects of blogging is Aviva Directory’s 12 Important U.S. Laws Every Blogger Needs to Know, dated May 2008.

This article does a good job of spotting issues that bloggers should be aware of, but I disagree with a fair amount of its analysis and advice. Some of the counsel it gives is needlessly conservative.

A Chilling Wind Blows in from the Mojave Desert

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Here’s evidence that Righthaven’s shoot-first/shoot-everybody/shoot-often style of copyright enforcement is chilling bloggers out of their fair use rights:

From Opposing Views, by NORML:

Since Righthaven Inc. may be watching, I’m not going to blockquote any of this story from the Las Vegas Review-Journal (LVRJ). According to the report …

A Database of Company Social Media Policies

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Lawyer Doug Cornelius maintains a Social Media Policies Database, which aggregates links to a slew of policies on blogging and other uses of social media. It includes employer policies for employees and other policies. It’s a great resource.

(Ha’p: Megan J. Erickson’s Social Networking Law Blog)

Legal Info Online for Bloggers: the EFF’s Legal Guide for Bloggers

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

There’s not a whole lot out there as sources of information about blog law, but there is one excellent resource from the Electronic Frontier Foundations. It is the EFF’s Legal Guide for Bloggers.

Thoughtful and thorough, the Guide is written from a pro-blogger perspective that is not overly cautious, nor does it ignore ugly realities. Everyone who does a lot of public blogging ought to consider perusing it.

I am particularly jealous of their awesome blogger illustration used in the banner. I totally want to read this cartoon character’s blog:

Not only do I get the idea that the cartoon figure writes a really interesting blog, I also get the idea that he probably is the kind of blogger who finds himself in trouble with the law, and, therefore, a blogger that should be particularly happy the EFF’s looking out for him.

(N.B.: The angry cartoon blogger guy is available on a t-shirt from the EFF’s swag collection.)