Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

UK Bans Warns of Criminal Charges for Using Social Media to Discuss 25-Year-Old Soccer Tragedy

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014
Persons scramble away from the human crush in the stadium

From television coverage of the game in 1989.

In the United Kingdom, there is a new example of that country’s sometimes surprising limitations on free speech.

The UK Attorney General is warning people that they might be held in criminal contempt for using social media to discuss the 1989 Hillsborough soccer tragedy. That disaster resulted in 96 deaths when people were crushed in an overcrowded stadium to watch a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

The notice reads:

Editors, publishers and social media users should note that the inquest proceedings are currently active for the purpose of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

The Attorney General wishes to draw attention to the risk of publishing material, including online, which could create a substantial risk that the course of justice in the inquests may be seriously impeded or prejudiced, particularly as this inquest involves a jury.

This risk could arise by commentary which may prejudge issues that witnesses may give evidence about, or matters that the jury will need to consider in reaching their verdict. The inquests could also be prejudiced by publishing details of material (whatever its source) which may not form part of the evidence at the inquest.

The Attorney General’s Office will be monitoring the coverage of these proceedings.

This spring marks the 25th anniversary of the disaster, so naturally people want to talk about it. But just at this moment, the British government squelched discussion with heavy-handed criminal laws. That seems extremely regrettable to me.

An ESPN documentary on the tragedy is currently banned from being distributed in the UK. The director told Sports Illustrated:

Because the new inquest has started just two weeks ago, it can’t be shown in the UK until the jury delivers its verdict. Which is a year from now. I really want it to be shown now. You want it to have the impact now, but you can’t. It’s as simple as that.

Of course, the conversation a year from now will be a different one than could be had now. So it’s not just delaying speech, it is destroying speech.

Previously I’ve discussed how in the UK using social media can quite easily subject someone to possible jail time or draconian civil liability.

And here’s another example of the UK banning speech related to soccer:

City of London Police Hijacking Websites Without Court Orders

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Some scary news out of London. The City of London Police has a new Intellectual Property Crimes Unit, and they are demanding – without a court order – that domain registrars shut down websites and redirect traffic to commercial websites that seem to be affiliated with the companies that made the triggering complaints to the police.

EasyDNS’s Mark Jeftovic – one recipient of these demands – is fighting back. He’s posted Whatever Happened to “Due Process” ? on EasyDNS’s blog.

Among the good points he makes:

Who decides what is illegal? What makes somebody a criminal? Given that the subtext of the request contains a threat to refer the matter to ICANN if we don’t play along, this is a non-trivial question. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I always thought it was something that gets decided in a court of law, as opposed to “some guy on the internet” sending emails. While that’s plenty reason enough for some registrars to take down domain names, it doesn’t fly here.

We have an obligation to our customers and we are bound by our Registrar Accreditation Agreements not to make arbitrary changes to our customers settings without a valid FOA (Form of Authorization). To supersede that we need a legal basis. To get a legal basis something has to happen in court.

(Emphasis and links omitted.) He also makes this point:

What gets me about all of this is that the largest, most egregious perpetrators of online criminal activity right now are our own governments, spying on their own citizens, illegally wiretapping our own private communications and nobody cares, nobody will answer for it, it’s just an out-of-scope conversation that is expected to blend into the overall background malaise of our ever increasing serfdom.

By the way, the City of London Police is the smaller of two police forces in London. The other is the Metropolitan Police. The City police are responsible for the smaller and older portion of London that is referred to as “the City,” which includes the center of the finance/banking industry as well as many of the major law firms. The Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and most of the rest of what you think of as London is outside the City and under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police.

More:

London Tweeting: The Crown Prosecution Service Talks Twitter

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Flag of the U.K.A worthwhile article from the U.K.:

Social media and the law – How to stay out of trouble when using Twitter and Facebook

The story points up the many differences between the U.S. and U.K. when it comes to freedom of speech. Tweeting can quite easily constitute a crime in the UK, whereas the First Amendment in the U.S. makes it near to impossible to go to jail for a tweet.

Frank Ferguson, district crown prosecutor from Norfolk County in the East of England, identifies three types of social-media crime cases:

“Firstly, where people have committed an offence through abusing or bullying someone else, so that could be harassment or racism.

“Then we have the types of postings where the message results in an offence, such as someone is having a party, thousands turn up and criminal acts follow at that party.

“Thirdly we have seen many cases where someone has committed and offence and then goes on to social media to brag about what they have done. This is an example where it can help us to track someone down.”

Not that the first category of speech – with more – can’t constitute a crime in the U.S. because of the broad application of the First Amendment.

Also, as discussed in the article, a civil libel case in the U.K. can ruin a defendant - especially if the plaintiff is wealthy and the defendant lacks resources. It’s not just the judgment, it’s the U.K.’s loser-pays-the-attorneys-fees rule. In the U.S., with everyone bearing their own legal costs, plus with the First Amendment hurdles to libel actions, the specter of civil libel liability is much lower.

Conviction for Insulting Islam in Austria

Monday, January 30th, 2012

daylight exterior

Pallas Athena fountain in front of the Parliament Building in Vienna, Austria (Photo: CIA)

An Austrian appeals court has upheld the conviction of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff for insulting Islam.

This is a case that came down just before the New Year. I think it’s worth discussing here because blogs, of course, cross borders. American bloggers are likely to think that American concepts of free expression are likely to be shared with other industrialized Western countries. But that’s not true at all.

Eugene Volokh on the Volokh Conspiracy explains the legal angle with a post that provides a quick look at recent blasphemy prosecutions around Europe, as well as a discussion of America’s history of criminalizing blasphemy back in the early 1800s.

As far as the prosecution of Sabaditsch-Wolff, the defendant herself explains what happened in an interview:

What was the reason for this conviction, you may ask. Well, during the course of my seminars, I mentioned the choking EU directive “Framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia,” and in order to illustrate my point I told the audience about a conversation I had with my sister and how she believed that one should find a different word for Mohammed’s actions with Aisha. I said, “How does one name what he did if not call it pedophilia?” And this sentence got me convicted, for I am allowed by law to say that Mohammed had sex with a young girl, but I may not qualify this behavior as this is deemed “excessive” and thus denigrating.

It would be unthinkable for anyone in the United States to get in legal trouble for something like this. But, as Commenter Parker said in the thread after Volokh’s post, “This is Europe we are speaking of. Europe has a different idea of human rights and especially a different idea of the freedom of speech.”

True that. With the similarity in the media, press, and arts between the U.S. and Europe, you could easily assume that what’s sacrosanct as a matter of American expressive freedom would be protected in Europe. Just about anyone could guess that there’s no right to bear arms across Europe. But with free speech, you would be forgiven for thinking they are basically the same. And it’s probably true that 99% of what is protected in America is protected in EU countries. But once you get toward the fringes, you’ll realize that freedom of expression in Europe is actually very different. Free speech is at the apex of American freedoms and values. In the European scheme of values, there is the idea that free speech must often be subservient in the hierarchy of human rights. The Sabaditsch-Wolff case illustrates, I think, the European impulse that the right to be free from religious insult is considered as or more important than the right to be free to say whatever you want.

Dutch Conference on Internet Freedom Highlights Plight of Bloggers Under Oppressive Regimes

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Logo for Freedom Online 8 & 9 December 2011 Joint Action for Free Expression on the InternetEarlier this month the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a conference called Freedom Online: Joint Action for Free Expression on the Internet. The conference was attended by more than 20 countries and NGOs, including the United States, which sent Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

One particular subject of discussion was the need to help bloggers in countries ruled by oppressive regimes. There’s a good write up by Toby Sterling of the Associated Press: EU official: Protect bloggers from repressive governments.

Secretary Clinton, who opened the conference, issuing a call for companies to refuse to sell surveillance technologies to repressive governments. It’s wonderful to see the U.S. take a leadership stance on internet freedom, but there’s some irony as well.

Syrian blogger Amjad Baiazy, who was arrested and tortured earlier this year because of his online writing, noted that Western companies surveillance system that Syria’s been using to ferret out internet dissidents.

And Dutch member of parliament Marietje Schaake, while dittoing Clinton’s call for restraint among tech companies, took the U.S. to task for Congressional consideration of SOPA (the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act,” which, she said, “give great incentives to governments like China to do the same,” blocking access to expression they find inappropriate.

Important points, all around.

UK Anti-Terrorism Law Invoked Against Dad Who FB’d Photo of Daughter Eating Ice Cream in Mall

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Four-year-old girl eating ice cream on a seat fashioned like a pink Vespa scooter

The face of terrorism? (Photo: Chris White)

Chris White used his cell phone to take the adorable photo at right of his 4-year-old daughter eating ice cream in the Braehead Shopping Centre in Glasgow, Scotland. And with that, Mr. White took his fateful step toward becoming a terrorist – or so it would seem in the view of authorities who then swooped down on him.

To be entirely frank, I would understand authorities accusing me of terrorism for bringing my 3- and 6-year-old boys into a shopping mall. They go berserk in public spaces. Generally, you can’t capture a non-blurry photo of my boys with a cell phone – they move too fast. Often they are moving fast in a way that constitutes an immediate threat to property and person. But this photo of Chris White’s daughter seems to me to have nothing-to-do-with-terrorism written all over it.

I will let Mr. White explain what happened in his own words:

Walking down the shopping mall a man approached me from behind as I was carrying my daughter in my arms. He came from behind me, cutting in front of me and told me to stop. That was quite a shock as I am wary of people with crew cuts and white shirts suddenly appearing in front of me [Me too. –EEJ], but then realised he was a security guard. He then said I had been spotted taking photos in the shopping centre which was ‘illegal’ and not allowed and then asked me to delete any photos I had taken. I explained I had taken 2 photos of my daughter eating ice cream and that she was the only person in the photo so didn’t see any problem. i also said that I wasn’t that willing to delete the photo’s and there seemed little point as I had actually uploaded them to facebook. He then said i would have to stay right where I was while he called the police …

The older police officer … said that there had been a complaint about me taking photos and that there were clear signs in Braehead shopping centre saying that no photographs were allowed. I tried to explain that I hadn’t seen any clearly displayed signs and that I had taken 2 photos of my daughter. … He then said that under the Prevention of Terrorism Act he was quite within in his rights to confiscate my mobile phone without any explanation for taking photos within a public shopping centre[.] … He then said on this occasion he would allow me to keep the photos, but he wanted to take my full details. Name, place of birth, age, employment status, address. … The police officer also said that the security guard was within his rights to now ask me to leave Braehead Shopping Centre and bar me from the premises which I was happy to oblige.

The UK Prevention of Terrorism Act apparently allows the UK’s Home Secretary or a court to issue a “control order” that can restrict a terrorist suspect’s liberty in various ways, including prohibiting the person from possessing a mobile phone. I don’t see in the act where it allows a police officer to exercise that power on the spot when confronting a person the officer believes to be a suspect. But maybe someone who understands UK law better can chime in on that.

Well, after Mr. White started a Facebook page called Boycott Braehead, the story was picked up by the BBC, and within hours the management of Braehead was apologizing and announcing a change in policy so that people will be able to take photos of friends and family. They are also saying they will implement the change at all 11 centers owned by the same company.

Meanwhile, the Boycott Braehead page has 22,381 likes. Check that: 22,475. (It’s going up as I write this.) Now it’s 22,498.

More:

UK Soccer Star Ryan Giggs Sues Twitter and Tweeters Over Super-Injunction

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
Ryan Griggs, soccer player, standing on field

UK soccer star and super-injunction taker-outer, Ryan Griggs (Photo: Allison Pasciuto, CC-BY 2.0)

A soccer player who is famous in the United Kingdom, Ryan Giggs, apparently obtained a “super-injunction” to force the press to not reveal his name in connection with ongoing litigation involving an extra-marital affair he allegedly had with UK reality-television star Imogen Thomas. He has now apparently sued Twitter and Twitter users for revealing his identity.

The so-called super-injunction is one that not only gags the press and others with regard to the sensitive subject matter (such as allegations of an extra-marital affair), but also prohibits the press from even reporting about the injunction itself, thus shielding the identity of the person who took out the super-injunciton.

As your author of Blog Law Blog, based in the United States, I am confident that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects my ability to identify the person. And regardless, free-speech sufficient to discuss the use and potential over-use of judicial power ought to be considered a universal human right.

I actually looked through several news stories looking for the athlete’s name. All the sites I read, all of which were UK-based, were very cheeky, refusing to name Griggs, but dropping lots of hints, implying that the reader must then know who it was.

I’m sorry, but for me, on this side of the pond, if it’s not David Beckham, then I’m not going to know who it is unless you give me a name.

I eventually was able to get Griggs’s name through Google’s auto-complete feature, by typing in “superinjunction footballer …”

And now Griggs is suing Twitter, which was apparently where his identity broke.

Good luck with that, buddy. You’ll need it.

Twitter, based in San Francisco, U.S.A., has not only the First Amendment protecting it, but also the super-safe-harbor of section 230.

And now, here’s my commentary on the law: The super-injunction is a rank abuse of judicial power. It’s especially disappointing, to me, since the United Kingdom is one of the few countries on Earth that places the sort of premium on free speech that the United States does.

Imogen Thomas, Griggs’s ex-squeeze, who has been accused of blackmail in this whole thing, had this to say in the UK’s Daily Mail, which I think shows quite nicely what is wrong with the super-injunction as a legal institution:

“Yet again my name and my reputation are being trashed while the man I had a relationship with is able to hide.

“What’s more, I can’t even defend myself because I have been gagged. Where’s the fairness in that? What about my reputation?

“If this is the way privacy injunctions are supposed to work then there’s something seriously wrong with the law.”

Irish Defamation Law Compared with the UK’s New Reform Effort

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
Irish countryside and ruins of old farm house

The Irish countryside (Photo: CIA)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

In a nod to Éire, let me point you to a blog post by Trinity College law faculty member Dr. Eoin O’Dell (@cearta). He’s done a post at cearta.ie comparing a bill that would reform the UK’s much maligned libel law with Ireland’s recent statutory reform, the Defamation Act of 2009. Some differences are subtle. Others – such as the right to a jury in Ireland and the lack of such a right in the British bill – are not so subtle.

The whole idea of wrapping defamation law into a statute is pretty foreign to me. In the United States, defamation law is still almost entirely a matter of common law, with a huge heap of common-lawesque constitutional law thrown in on top. That adds up to a highly complex landscape of American defamation law across our 50-state system. As a law professor, however, I should confess that that makes it comparatively easy to teach. There are few questions that students can ask that I can’t answer honestly with, “It varies by jurisdiction.”

Prince Albert Takes Defamation Claim to Paris

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
Port of Monaco

Monaco. That's the prince's boat on the right. The big one. (Photo: CIA)

Libel tourism alert: The best place to vacay with your tarnished reputation continues to be Paris, France.

Prince Albert of Monaco is petitioning a Paris court to remove blog posts that His Serene Highness says are defamatory, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Robert Eringer, a blogger based in Santa Barbara, California, has accused the principality’s ruler of Olympic-Games-related corruption, saying he accepted the gift of a Russian-built dacha on Monaco’s outskirts. That’s suspect apparently because of its timing in relation to Sochi, Russia’s successful bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Albert is a member of the International Olympic Committee and a bobsledder who’s competed in several Olympics.

Eringer’s claim to expertise is that he is a former intelligence adviser to the prince. That sounds crazy, but apparently in a previous California lawsuit over backpay, court papers filed on Albert’s behalf confirmed that Eringer carried out “intelligence missions” for the prince.

Wow. Let’s just stop there for a second. What does Monaco need with spies? I guess that’s not fair on my part. If you’re going to have an independent sovereign nation, no matter how small (about 31,000 people and less than one square mile), you might as well do it up right with your own coinage, postage stamps, bobsled team, spies, and everything else.

But shouldn’t you have your own courts too? Why can’t Albert bring this action in Monaco? Is he afraid he won’t get a fair trial? Maybe it has to do with internet access. French wi-fi probably covers a large portion of the principality. Or maybe its just the allure of French libel law, as easy as a Sunday afternoon on the Champs-Élysées.

Internet Speech Freedom on the Line in Paris

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Professor Joseph H.H. Weiler

Joseph H.H. Weiler, an extremely well-regarded scholar of international law (and my teacher back in law school) has completed his criminal trial for libel in France. The verdict isn’t due back until March 3rd, but Weiler’s account of the trial is up on his journal’s blog, and it’s great reading.

The case stems from an unflattering review of Dr. Karin Calvo-Goller’s book The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court. Weiler didn’t write the review, but he did publish it on Global Law Books, a website of the European Journal of International Law. Weiler is and was editor-in-chief of the EJIL.

Calvo-Goller was offended and demanded that Weiler pull the review down. Weiler offered to publish Calvo-Goller’s response, but he refused to remove the review. After his investigation, Weiler determined the piece contained no factual inaccuracies.

While the case involves a book review, not a blog entry, the stakes for blog law are high. That’s because of what Calvo-Goller did next.

She didn’t sue Weiler where he lived. Instead, Calvo-Goller filed a criminal complaint in Paris.

From Weiler’s post:

Why Paris you might ask? Indeed. The author of the book was an Israeli academic. The book was in English. The publisher was Dutch. The reviewer was a distinguished German professor. The review was published on a New York website.

Beyond doubt, once a text or image go online, they become available worldwide, including France. But should that alone give jurisdiction to French courts in circumstances such as this? Does the fact that the author of the book, it turned out, retained her French nationality before going to live and work in Israel make a difference? …

Paris … is very plaintiff friendly.

In France an attack on one’s honor is taken as seriously as a bodily attack. Substantively, if someone is defamed, the bad faith of the defamer is presumed just as in our system, if someone slaps you in the face, it will be assumed that he intended to do so. Procedurally it is open to anyone who feels defamed, to avoid the costly civil route, and simply lodge a criminal complaint. At this point the machinery of the State swings into action.

The French Republic v. Weiler has been brewing for a while. But this month, it  finally went to trial.

The trial took place in in France’s version of Old Bailey – the hallowed Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris,
where Émile Zola was tried for libel over the publication of his J’accuse! letter. More than 100 years later, France is still criminally prosecuting alleged libel.

Especially interesting for me was Weiler’s account of the procedural aspects of the quick trial, which he described as “a strange mélange of the criminal and civil virtually unknown in the Common Law world.”

Despite its unfamiliarity, Weiler expressed considerable admiration for a procedure that was steadfastly “aimed at establishing the truth.”

“The trial was impeccable by any standard with which I am familiar,” Weiler wrote in the post. “Due process was definitely served. It was a fair trial.”

Read Weiler’s full account. It’s worth it. The stakes in this case are high. Blog freedom, along with Weiler, is “in the dock.”

Mike Masnick on Outsourced IP Policing

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

From Mike Masnick in TechDirt:

[W]ith our [U.S.] government often believing just about anything Hollywood tells them, and with a long term effort by the industry to have the government act as its own private police force, we’re seeing things like the totally botched seizure of domain names of blogs and forums on a questionable basis.

The outsourcing of police work to trade groups is not unique to the USA, as Masnick notes. He reports on similar ploys afoot in the Netherlands, and it turns out that at least one Dutch court is fed up. That court dismissed a criminal action when Dutch police relied on an industry group, BREIN, to do the investigating for them.

More from Masnick:

European Parliament Approves Get-Tough Gallo Report

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

The European Parliament voted to approve the Gallo Report calling for tough intellectual-property enforcement measures. (Photo: European Parliament. Used without permission.)

Following up on yesterday’s post, the European Parliament has approved the Gallo Report. (Europarl press release.)

More:

European Parliament Votes Today on Gallo Report

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Logo of the European ParliamentToday the European Parliament will vote on the Gallo Report [scribd], which recommends strengthening intellectual-property enforcement, including through “non-legislative” measures.

Prepared by French MEP Marielle Gallo, the report has been criticized as a vehicle for laundering lobbying points of the entertainment industry. Although ostensibly aimed at file sharing of movies and music, there is concern that its heavy-handedness could have a detrimental impact on the expressive activities of netizens, such as blogging.

There is also concern that the Gallo Report’s adoption would be seen as a green light for aggressive measures being considered in connection with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, currently the subject of closed-door international negotiations. (EFF on ACTA.)

Reporters Without Borders has issued a statement opposing adoption of the Gallo Report.