Archive for the ‘elections’ Category

Deidré A. Keller on TWiL

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Professor Deidré A. Keller of Ohio Northern is on This Week in Law with Denise Howell. It’s happening now (2-3 p.m. EDT). Live stream live here:  http://twit.tv/. Later, it should be archived here: http://twit.tv/twil266.

They are talking about copyright – in particular, fair use as applied to election campaigns.

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.

Illegal to Post Images of Your Ballot?

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

We’re seeing lots of chatter about people posting photos of their ballots taken with phones (such as on the ABC/Yahoo Live Stream and NBC News Blog.)

The Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School has a wonderful chart, backed up with citations to statutes, of state laws concerning taking photos in polling places. And guess what – yikes, it’s illegal plenty of places.

It sure seems like these laws are behind the times. And there’s reason to think that taking video and photos in the ballot booth is quite the opposite of socially pernicious. For instance, there’s this video (albeit unverified) of a person trying to vote for Obama with the machine registering a vote for Romney:

Vote Obama-Biden for Pro-Blogger Internet Policy

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Many of you out there are single-issue votes when it comes to the office of president. And, of course, that single issue is blog law. Or not.

But if you issue is blog law, your candidate is Barack Obama.

While blog law did not take center-stage (or even side-stage or backstage or offstage) at the debates, we do know something of candidates’ positions on blog law. Happily, Scientific American asked the candidates for president 14 questions related to science. In truth, I’m not sure internet policy is a “science” question, but, as it so happens, SciAm included the following: “What role, if any, should the federal government play in managing the Internet to ensure its robust social, scientific, and economic role?”

Interestingly enough, the candidates’ answers are importantly different. And Governor Mitt Romney takes a position that is squarely against the interests of bloggers. So, if you are voting on the basis of blog law, vote Obama-Biden.

Let’s take a look at what they said.

President Barack Obama:

A free and open Internet is essential component of American society and of the modern economy. I support legislation to protect intellectual property online, but any effort to combat online piracy must not reduce freedom of expression, increase cybersecurity risk, or undermine the dynamic, innovative global Internet. I also believe it is essential that we take steps to strengthen our cybersecurity and ensure that we are guarding against threats to our vital information systems and critical infrastructure, all while preserving Americans’ privacy, data confidentiality, and civil liberties and recognizing the civilian nature of cyberspace.

That’s a pretty boring response that seems designed to offend no one. There is one nugget of a controversial-stance taking inside of it. When the president says “any effort to combat online piracy must not reduce freedom of expression, increase cybersecurity risk, or undermine the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” he seems to be talking about the hypercopyright bill SOPA, which I’ve blogged about several times. That’s good, because anti-SOPA is pro-blogger.

Governor Mitt Romney:

It is not the role of any government to “manage” the Internet. The Internet has flourished precisely because government has so far refrained from regulating this dynamic and essential cornerstone of our economy. I would rely primarily on innovation and market forces, not bureaucrats, to shape the Internet and maximize its economic, social and scientific value.

Thanks to the non-governmental multi-stakeholder model, the Internet is — and always has been — open to all ideas and lawful commerce as well as bountiful private investment. Unfortunately, President Obama has chosen to impose government as a central gatekeeper in the broadband economy. His policies interfere with the basic operation of the Internet, create uncertainty, and undermine investors and job creators.

Specifically, the FCC’s “Net Neutrality” regulation represents an Obama campaign promise fulfilled on behalf of certain special interests, but ultimately a “solution” in search of a problem. The government has now interjected itself in how networks will be constructed and managed, picked winners and losers in the marketplace, and determined how consumers will receive access to tomorrow’s new applications and services. The Obama Administration’s overreaching has replaced innovators and investors with Washington bureaucrats.

In addition to these domestic intrusions, there are also calls for increased international regulation of the Internet through the United Nations. I will oppose any effort to subject the Internet to an unaccountable, innovation-stifling international regulatory regime. Instead, I will clear away barriers to private investment and innovation and curtail needless regulation of the digital economy.

Romney’s pro-big-telecomm stance against net neutrality should be very concerning for bloggers. I’ve explained why net neutrality is important for bloggers. (In fact, I’ve written about it a lot.)

On that basis, Blog Law Blog officially endorses Barack Obama for president of the United States. (Just to be completely clear, that’s coming from the Blog Law Blog Editorial Board, which is me, and does not necessarily reflect contributor viewpoint.)

So go and vote. And beginning tomorrow, I will provide you with some of America’s least comprehensive election coverage. (But, hey, it is likely be America’s only election coverage solely devoted to blog law issues!)

Former Mayor Must Pay $21,275 in Bloggers’ Legal Bills

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Aurora town logo(Image: Aurora, Ontario website, used without permission.)

A court in Ontario has ordered a former mayor to pay $21,275 in legal bills accumulated by bloggers defending themselves against a local politician’s attempt to silence online criticism.

In 2010, Phyllis Morris, then mayor of Aurora, Ontario, waged a litigation campaign against online critics while she was running for re-election. Notably, she got the town council to foot the bill for the lawsuit with taxpayer money. Months later, well after she lost the election, she voluntarily dismissed her lawsuit.

But defendants William Hogg, blog proprietor-moderator, and Richard Johnson, a blog contributor, kept the case file open to press the court for a money award to pay their defense bills.

Their push paid off.

According to the Toronto Star, in making the award, the Ontario Superior Court characterized Morris’ lawsuit as an attempt to hit her critics “quickly and hard,” in order to quiet her opponents “sooner rather than later in the weeks leading up to the October 2010 elections.”

Blogger Christopher Watts has more about the court’s award, plus a link to the court’s opinion, on his blog, Temporary Sanity.

Prior coverage on Blog Law Blog:

Coverage of the fee award:

Trademark Infringement in the Presidential Election?

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Romney Believe in America - Get the DetailsI don’t want to spoil anything, so click here if you want to find out about the details of the Romney tax plan, including how he will cut $5 trillion in spending without increasing the deficit.

Cute, huh? (At least if you are a Democrat.) Now that you’ve seen that, let’s think about the legal implications. The website, romneytaxplan.com, is a product of the Democratic National Committee. Yet the website conspicuously carries the Romney campaign logo and uses the Romney campaign’s slogan and adopted typestyle. So, is there a trademark problem?

Yes and no.

This is a good example of why it is so important in evaluating intellectual property problems to not only apply the blackletter law, but to also ask the practical question: Would this plaintiff sue?

Trademark law should generously protect parody uses of trademarks. Yet it doesn’t always. Consider this parody ad that appeared in a humor magazine called Snickers:

One taste and you'll drink it oily. Michelob Oily.

The case was Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. Balducci Publications, 28 F. 3d 769 (8th Cir. 1994). Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Michelob, sued for trademark infringement and trademark dilution. The federal district court dismssed the case, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the brewery could continue on with its action. I seriously disagree with that case. And there several cases upholding dismissals in the realm of trademark parody. But the Anheuser-Busch case is still, regrettably, good law.

There’s also the case the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pursued against a prankster group, The Yes Men, who produced a faked Chamber of Commerce press release and website to go along with a fake press conference they held about support for climate change legislation.

The fact is, the Romney campaign can sue the DNC and the case would have some legs.

But will they?

No way.

There’s no way the Romney campaign is going to draw attention to the website and look humorless and loser-y by filing suit. Or even threatening. So it’s a good call by the DNC to ignore precedent that points to a potential for legal liability. Calculated risk-taking is often the right prescription when advising clients about IP liability concerns.

Local Blog vs. Small Town in Washington State

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Here’s another local-political-blog-vs-small-town story: Emily Heffter in the Seattle Times: Activist’s blog hammers away at Gold Bar, costs tiny town money

The blog, the Gold Bar Reporter, has become a disruptive force in the Gold Bar, Washington, population 2,000. But good disruptive or bad disruptive?

There’s no doubt that it’s costing the town money. In 2010, the town spent $70,000 responding to public-records requests, nearly all of them from Gold Bar bloggers Anne Block and Susan Forbes. That’s out of a total annual budget of $573,898. The town says that they’ve had to re-assign staff to deal with the onslaught of records requests.

On the other hand, the blog has uncovered some things that seem worth uncovering. During the re-election campaign of County Executive Aaron Reardon, the blog accused Reardon of using taxpayer money for a trip with a mistress. A month afterward, a county employee came forward to admit that she traveled with Reardon in pursuit of an affair on county trips. And now the Washington State Patrol is doing an investigation to see if county funds were misused.

Looking Back: Rankled Local Officials vs. Anonymous Bloggers

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

I’ve been thinking back over the last year, Blog Law Blog’s first year, and trying to figure out what broad lessons there are to be learned about blog law. The most striking thing to me, I think, is the tremendous number of altercations we’ve seen between local officials and bloggers.

In both Canada and the United States, it seems like local government officials are highly intolerant of harsh criticism. They try to unmask anonymous bloggers and commenters. They use town counsel money and subpoenas to get at their tormentors.

Where do local officials get off thinking they should be able to silence online critics? What’s a bit puzzling is that the behavior exhibited by local officials toward the online press is something you would never see either (1) by federal or higher-level state politicians and officials, or (2) by local officials against the traditional media. Well, you might see it very rarely. But not with the frequency and abandon with which town politicos go after laptop-wielding gadflies.

So what accounts for the difference?

I think a big part of it is that local officials aren’t used to the heat. National politicians have always put up with vitriol. For them, the internet has perhaps added to the number of hecklers, but the phenomenon is not utterly new for elite officials.

But on the local level, blogs have propelled brickbats into a void. It’s all new for local officials. And the do not like it.

Much of the blog activity that leads to lawsuits is mean-spirited and nothing to cheer about. Nonetheless, you can’t deny that this is participatory democracy. I can’t help but think that when blogging comes to town hall, it is perhaps the greatest fulfillment of the vision the forefathers had for the First Amendment. This is the core within the core of free speech. I think Jefferson, Madison, and the rest would say this is exactly what democracy and freedom of press are all about.

That said, I get that it hurts. A big part of what drives local officials to get lawyered up is the anonymity blogs allow. People are mean anonymously in a way the would never be with their name attached. There’s no doubt about that.

Another part of the story is that the criticism is in print. No doubt local officials have always been subject to mean-spirited gossip. But gossip uttered on the air is less hurtful than font-rendered invective. It goes back to the traditional legal difference between slander and libel – that is, oral vs. written defamation. The common law’s distinction no doubt grows from an important difference in how we perceive the harmfulness of ephemeral speech versus inky text.

Here are posts from BLB where local officials use the law to attack blogs in 2010:

Wendy Seltzer on the DMCA’s Effects on Free Speech

Friday, January 28th, 2011

The Harvard Journal of Law & Technology has published Free Speech Unmoored in Copyright’s Safe Harbor: Chilling Effects of the DMCA on the First Amendment [pdf] by Wendy Seltzer, a fellow with Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University.

Here is the abstract, taken from the draft version of the paper posted on SSRN.

Each week, more blog posts are redacted, more videos deleted, and more web pages removed from Internet search results based on private claims of copyright infringement. Under the safe harbors of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Internet service providers are encouraged to respond to copyright complaints with content takedowns, assuring their immunity from liability while diminishing the rights of their subscribers and users. Paradoxically, the law’s shield for service providers becomes a sword against the public who depend upon these providers as platforms for speech.

Under the DMCA, process for an accused infringer is limited. The law offers Internet service providers (ISPs) protection from copyright liability if they remove material expeditiously in response to unverified complaints of infringement. Even if the accused poster responds with counter-notification of non-infringement, DMCA requires the service provider to keep the post offline for more than a week.

If this takedown procedure took place through the courts, it would trigger First Amendment scrutiny as a prior restraint, silencing speech before an adjudication of lawfulness. Because DMCA takedowns are privately administered through ISPs, however, they have not received such constitutional scrutiny, despite their high risk of error. I add to prior scholarly analysis of the conflict between copyright and the First Amendment by showing how the copyright notice-and-takedown regime operates in the shadow of the law, doing through private intermediaries what government could not to silence speech. In the wake of Citizens United v. FEC, why can copyright remove political videos when campaign finance law must not?

This Article argues for greater constitutional scrutiny. The public is harmed by the loss of speech via indirect chilling effect no less than if the government had wrongly ordered removal of lawful postings directly. Indeed, because DMCA takedown costs less to copyright claimants than a federal complaint and exposes claimants to few risks, it invites more frequent abuse or error than standard copyright law. I describe several of the error cases in detail. The indirect nature of the chill on speech should not shield the legal regime from challenge.

When non-infringing speech is taken down, not only does its poster lose an opportunity to reach an audience, the public loses the benefit of hearing that lawful speech in the marketplace of ideas. Yet under the DMCA’s pressure, the poster’s private incentive to counter-notify and the host’s incentives to support challenged speech are often insufficient to support an optimal communication environment for the public. Instead, this set of incentives produces a blander, but not significantly less copyright infringing, information space.

Copyright claimants assert that the expedited process of the DMCA is critical to suppress infringement in the highly networked digital world. While many instances of infringement are properly targeted for takedown under the DMCA, I argue that the accuracy of some takedowns does not excuse a careful examination of the rate and costs of error. I therefore recommend changes to the law to reduce the error, balancing speech protection and copyright.

Part I surveys the legal, economic, and architectural sources of the DMCA’s chilling effects on speech. Part II then examines the First Amendment doctrines that should guide lawmaking, with critique of copyright’s place in speech law. Part III reviews the history and mechanics of the DMCA and provides examples of chilled speech and a few instances of limited warming. Finally, Part IV engages current policy debates and proposes reform to protect online speech better.

Town in Ontario Stops Footing Legal Bills for Blog Lawsuit

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Phyllis Morris, blog-bothered former mayor of Aurora. (Image: Phyllis Morris Campaign, used without permission.)

There seems to be a never ending stream of local government people in Canada waging war against blogs that criticize them. (E.g., Meaford, ON; Edmonton, AB; Toronto, ON.)

Here’s the latest one from this fall: Phyllis Morris, when she was mayor of Aurora, Ontario and running for re-election, got the town council to agree to foot the legal bills for going after the Aurora Citizen blog and anonymous critics voicing their opinions on the site. With taxpayers paying, Morris then sued a bunch of people, including people behind the blog, anonymous defendants, and WordPress.

After the town had incurred $43,000 in legal fees, the council voted (just before Christmas) to cut off funding.

Why the change of heart? Well, apparently people in the town started to squawk. (Which is why politicians like to keep these legal campaigns secret when then can. E.g., Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel.) In other words, politicians like to avoid criticism. If silencing critics with lawsuits doesn’t work, then governing in accordance with the will of the electorate is the plan B.

My favorite bit is Councillor John Gallo, who was quoted in the YorkRegion as saying, “we never agreed to sue any private residents; that was never on the table when I agreed to the motion.”

Really?

The September 14, 2010 resolution directed the town solicitor to hire outside counsel and “take any and all actions to bring resolution to this matter[.]”

If Gallo didn’t think that would include a lawsuit, then he’s a real noodlehead.

By the way, Gallo was the lone vote on the council for continuing to use town money to fund the legal war against the blog. He didn’t think it would be right to change things now. Well, clearly, he’s a man of integrity.

Ontario Mayor Looking to Unmask Critical Blogger

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Francis Richardson, blog-bothered mayor of Meaford. (Image: Francis Richardson for Mayor, used without permission.)

The Sun Times of Owen Sound, Ontario reports that the town of Meaford, Ontario has obtained the identity of a person behind www.francisformayor.blogspot.com, an anonymously authored blog that was critical of the incumbent mayor during a recent election.

The mayor, Francis Richardson, managed to get re-elected despite the blog supposedly having interfered with the election.

The town of about 11,000 people was able to get the identity from IP addresses turned over by Google.

The town is still pressing Google for more information so it can get the identity of anonymous commenters.

Richardson wants to publicly reveal the blogger’s identity “for the main reason of having that kind of thing stopped.”

Richardson claims it wasn’t attacks on him that pushed the city to use legal process to find the blogger’s identity. It was, he says, the material critical of his staff.

“It was the attack on the staff that council responded to. It requires us to get very, very, very serious to get people to realize they can’t take those kinds of shots at our staff without the corporation doing something about it,” Richardson told the Sun Times.

The article doesn’t say what the blogger or commenters said that is allegedly civilly actionable. Supposedly a defamation lawsuit is in the offing.

Edmonton Mayor Suing Over Blog Posts, Loses Bid to Keep Suit Secret

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel. Image copyright claimed by City of Edmonton. Used without permission.

Another politician angered by an anonymous blogger has sued; this time in Canada.

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel not only wanted to unlock the secret of his critic’s identity with a lawsuit, Mandel wanted to keep his own lawsuit a secret. But a court in Alberta has now unsealed the mayor’s complaint for defamation, reports the CBC broadcast network.

Mandel’s lawyer argued that the lawsuit should proceed in secret until an investigation was completed. But Justice Donna Read of Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench ordered the unsealing after hearing arguments from the CBC and the Edmonton Journal newspaper.

“The courts are open,” Read said, according the CBC. “Freedom of expression exists. There is no good reason for that statement of claim to be sealed.”

Politicians love to have it both ways: silence their anonymous critics, but remain anonymous as they do it. Put another way, secrecy is okay for the plaintiff politician, but not for the defendant blogger. Recall the case of Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett vs. his Twitter tormentors.

Righthaven’s New Target, Lowcountry912, is in Core First Amendment Territory

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Yesterday, I posted about how regrettable it was that copyright thugster Righthaven has signed up a new client, the enormous MediaNews Group.

Now, let’s talk about the lawsuit itself. This new docket item landed on top of Lowcountry912′s Blog. Coming out of Summerville, South Carolina, the blog describes itself as the product of “a group of conservative Americans who want to do everything possible to keep America safe from its enemies within as well as without”.

A grassroots Tea Party affair, the blog makes a habit of reposting stories from the news media as it attempts to rally like-minded citizens to attend weekly meetings at an area church.

What Lowcountry912 is doing is core First Amendment stuff. It involves not just political speech, but it also implicates freedom of association, the Bill of Rights stepsister of freedom of expression.

Or, maybe a better way to put it is that freedom of association is the Park Place to freedom of expression’s Boardwalk. It’s a powerful combination for a plaintiff’s copyright claim to land on.

The post that got Lowcountry912 in trouble was a repost (now removed) of a September 23, 2010 column from Denver Post columnist Mike Rosen that was styled as an open letter to Tea Partyers.

Ironically, Rosen wrote: “While I’m not a card-carrying member of your movement, I enthusiastically support and applaud it. My activism in the war of ideas takes the form of a radio show and a newspaper column. Yours, at the grassroots level, has been invaluable this election year.”

Hmmm. That almost could be interpreted as implied permission to repost his column as part of a grassroots organizing attempt, especially when the column was put in the form of an open letter.

N.H. KingCast Blogger Lost His Pre-Election Challenge in Court

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Here’s an update on the crusade of left-leaning New Hampshire blogger Christopher King to be able to attend campaign events of Kelly Ayotte, Republican for U.S. Senate.

The Nashua Telegraph reports today that King lost his pre-election request for a federal injunction that would have permitted him entry to Ayotte’s election-day party.

The party went on without him, and it turned out to be a victory party. The Sarah-Palin-endorsed Ayotte beat Democrat Paul Hodes. That keeps the seat – now held by retiring Republican Judd Gregg – in the column for the GOP.

In recent weeks King was bounced out of a Republican fundraiser by the Nashua police – at the organizers’ request – and was barred from attending Ayotte campaign events.

Despite losing the injunction, King is committed to pursuing the case and its crop of constitutional questions. As the Nashua Telegraph explains:

Those issues involve whether a private event that aggressively seeks media coverage can cherry pick which reporters attend and which don’t.

It is also about whether bloggers – including sharp-tongued partisans like King – will receive the same graces of First Amendment shed on mainstream journalists.

This is a case to watch.

N.H. Blogger King to Get Pre-Election Hearing

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Yesterday’s Nashua Telegraph reported that lefty New Hampshire blogger Christopher King has succeeded in getting his hearing for an injunction moved up to before the November 2 general election. King is seeking a court order to have him un-barred from Republican campaign events.

Blogger Bother in the Bathroom

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

For Joe Miller, preserving conservative values apparently means using force to maintain distance at the urinal bank.

The security detail for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Joe Miller of Alaska arrested online journalist Tony Hopfinger of Alaska Dispatch on Sunday, releasing him about 20 minutes later. They took Hopfinger into custody and handcuffed him after he peppered the candidate with questions and followed him into a bathroom after a town hall meeting at Central Middle School in Anchorage.

Miller explained his version of events to an Anchorage television station:

“It went very well until we started to leave the building. We had one individual that started to hound me all the way out the door,” Miller said to KTVA / CBS 11. “That’s fine, but you’re violating somebody’s personal space, following me into the bathroom – that just gets beyond the pale.”

Huh? It’s violating someone’s private space to follow them into a public bathroom asking questions? I’ll be darned. Over the years I could have had a lot of people arrested, including some law firm partners and a few of my clients, not to mention hundreds of drunk, chatty strangers at ballgames.

On a separate note, is Alaska Dispatch a blog or a newspaper?

There’s some kerfuffle over this.

The Miller campaign calls the Alaska Dispatch a blog and Hopfinger a blogger, including in phrases such as “irrational blogger,” “liberal blogger,” and “the blogger appeared irrational, angry and potentially violent.”

Now the Alaska Dispatch doesn’t refer to itself as a blog. It has “blogs” within it, but the operation calls itself in sum an “online newsmagazine” and emphasizes its employment of professional journalists and its commitment to turning a profit on ad revenues. But many blogs fit that bill.

Moreover, Alaska Dispatch doesn’t have a print component and it was started by Hopfinger and his wife Amanda Coyne in their spare bedroom in 2008.

That sounds bloggish to me.

I conclude that for purposes of Blog Law Blog, Alaska Dispatch is a blog and Hopfinger is a blogger. But even if Joe Miller means “blogger” as an insult, Blog Law Blog does not. Blog Law Blog believes bloggers are respectable members of society. Even in middle school bathrooms.

More:

Righthaven Has a Major Card to Play in Nevada Senate Race

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Sharron Angle logo and headshotSteve Green of the Las Vegas Sun reports that the Las-Vegas Review Journal, via its plaintiff stand-in, Righthaven, has sued the Nevada Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Sharron Angle, for reproducing material from LVRJ newspaper stories on her website. Angle is running against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The lawsuit seeks $150,000 in damages plus the surrendering of the candidate’s domain name, sharronangle.com.

This shows you how far Righthaven and the Las Vegas Review-Journal have strayed from ordinary, civil behavior. This is a newspaper we are talking about, suing a candidate for office. And not just that, but suing that candidate because of the content of her communications to the public.

If Angle is forced to give up her domain name and cough up $150K in damages, that could easily be the difference in a closely contested election. (And apparently, the race is currently close.)

What happened to reporting on the story, not becoming part of it?

There is some indication that the Review-Journal, which previously used Righthaven to file a lawsuit against the Nevada Democratic Party, was bowing to pressure to be more non-partisan in its carpet-bombing litigation activities. Steve Friess, a blogger and columnist for a rival media outlet, the Las Vegas Weekly, used a series of screenshots on his blog to document Angle’s copious borrowing, egging the Review-Journal on. Friess doubled the dare by calling R-J publisher Sherman R. Frederick and chief editor Thomas Mitchell “full-throated Sharron Angle supporters and Ahab-like Harry Reid haters.”

“Righthaven must sue,” Friess wrote. “It took effort to find the cat blogger, but this one was on a major candidate’s site, there in plain sight. If they don’t sue Angle, they provide dozens of infringers with a clear example of the company’s inconsistency in defending its copyright.”

So now they’ve sued.

But in my view, filing the complaint really doesn’t prove much. The real question is how aggressively will Righthaven pursue the case?

The plaintiff-side lawyering in this case could actually make a big difference in how the Senate race plays out. As a tea-party candidate coming from outside the Republican mainstream, running against a powerful incumbent, Angle is already at a disadvantage in terms of cash and political allies. That makes her website and what money she has all that much more important to her. The attorneys fees in defending against Righthaven could significantly affect her ability to buy television ad time and otherwise get her message out. And during campaign season, every day and every dollar counts.

That means that Righthaven/LVRJ has much more leverage in this litigation than they do in most of their lawsuits, which have been settling for pennies-on-the-dollar nuisance-value amounts. Will the Review-Journal and Righthaven pull punches and sit on the complaint without turning up the heat in court? Or will they move things along procedurally and use their leverage to demand a big payoff?

Here are some more questions: Is it fair for Righthaven/LVRJ to use the leverage that exists because of the tempo of the campaign? Is it fair for them not to?

This is a real mess. From the perspective of integrity and the public trust, I think this is a very sorry position for a newspaper to be in. The Review-Journal never should have involved itself in the Righthaven scheme. I wonder if that is dawning on them now.