Archive for the ‘international’ Category

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.

Wanting a Chance to Be Heard in New Trade Negotiations

Friday, May 11th, 2012

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is conducting closed-door negotiations for a new trade deal involving intellectual property – the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Big Hollywood and Big Pharma are involved and are allowed to see negotiation documents. The public is not. Once the deal is concluded, it could bind Congress to change IP law and restrict free-speech, fair-use, and access-to-information rights.

In a brash move snubbing the lobbyist-challenged public, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative decided to cancel a very limited opportunity for people to voice their concerns at a “stakeholder” meeting.

The following is an abridged version of a letter to the signed by many legal academics to the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk.

The letter was written by law professors David S. Levine of Elon, Christopher Jon Sprigman of UVA, and Sean Flynn of American U.

Dear Ambassador Kirk:

We write as legal academics from the US and current or potential future Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) member countries to express our profound concern and disappointment at the lack of public participation, transparency and open government processes in the negotiation of the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). We are particularly and specifically concerned that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) took the opportunity of its hosting of the latest round of negotiations in Dallas, Texas, to begin this week, to further restrict public involvement in the negotiations by eliminating the full-day stakeholder forums that have been hosted at other rounds. We call on the USTR and all TPP negotiating countries to reverse course and work instead to expand, rather than contract, the opportunities for public engagement in the formation of the TPP’s intellectual property chapter.

At a time when the last international intellectual property law to be negotiated under a similar process, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, teeters on the edge of rejection by the European Parliament in large part because of the loss of faith in its secretive process demonstrated by hundreds of thousands of marchers across Europe, the move to scale back participation in the TPP appears highly unwise and counterproductive. The functional and theoretical impact of the lack of transparency and accountability in the TPP and other trade negotiations institutionalizes the kind of process that the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan criticized as policy making through “ignorant armies clash[ing] by night.” This is no way to build support for a broad reaching new international law that will constrain democratic law making over intellectual property matters in the US and abroad, particularly in an era of massive and rapid technological change that is testing the bounds of our current policy framework.

Our first and most important suggestion is to immediately begin a policy of releasing to the public the kind of reports on US positions and proposals on intellectual property matters that are currently given only to Industry Trade Advisory Committee members under confidentiality agreements. The USTR has previously refused to share its own proposals with its own citizenry claiming that, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to do so would damage the national security of the United States. …

Our concerns flow from the now-established observation that “trade” agreements no longer focus exclusively, or perhaps even predominantly, on the regulation of trade. Rather, the agreements increasingly propose international law standards that bind the legislative branch to change, or lock in place, domestic regulatory decisions. …

Unfortunately, there is little about the TPP negotiating process that is open to the broad range of inputs that would be reflected in domestic policy making. There has been no publicly released text of what USTR is demanding in these negotiations, as there would be in policy making by regulation, in Congress or in multilateral forums. Reviews of leaked proposals show that the US is pushing numerous standards that are beyond those included in any past (i.e. publicly released) agreement and that could require changes in current US statutory law. Reviews also show that the US proposal is manifestly unbalanced – it predominantly proposes increases in proprietor rights, with no effort to expand the limitations and exceptions to such rights that are needed in the US and abroad to serve the public interest. …

The unbalanced product results from an unbalanced process. The only private individuals in the US who have ongoing access to the US proposals on intellectual property matters are on an Industry Trade Advisory Committee (ITAC) which is dominated by brand name pharmaceutical manufacturers and the Hollywood entertainment industry. There is no representation on this committee for consumers, libraries, students, health advocacy or patient groups, or others users of intellectual property, and minimal representation of other affected businesses, such as generic drug manufacturers or internet service providers. …

All of the above makes the most recent further withdrawal from the TPP negotiation of a limited participation venue particularly disturbing. … While far from ideal for all involved, including the USTR and its ITAC advisors, this mechanism at least allowed for some exchange, even if that exchange was fundamentally flawed and artificially limited in value because of the information-disparity problems discussed above. In the place of these full day open forums in Dallas, USTR has channeled stakeholder input into a 4-hour mid-day (10:30am-2:30pm, i.e. over the lunch hour) exhibit hall for stakeholder tables. There will be no opportunity, as in the past, to speak to assembled negotiators through presentations. …

Citizen Media Org Workers Facing Prosecution in Egypt

Monday, February 6th, 2012

ICFJ logoUSA Today reports that two Americans and two Egyptians, who are employees of the International Center for Journalists, have been referred to Egypt’s Justice Ministry for prosecution.

ICFJ is a DC-based non-profit org that “promotes quality journalism worldwide in the belief that independent, vigorous media are crucial in improving the human condition.”

The president of ICFJ said that the organization was in Egypt to help improve citizen journalism by teaching fair, responsible, and in-context news coverage.

The American staffers are currently stateside – and presumably they won’t be headed back. The two Egyptian staffers have been questioned by Egyptian authorities, but they have not been arrested at this point, and only learned about the prosecutorial referral via reports in the media.

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.

In Newly “Free” Egypt, Facebooker Gets Three Years Behind Bars for Insulting Islam

Monday, November 7th, 2011

View of Cairo and the River Nile at duskCairo and the River Nile.
(Image: CIA)

The engine of the Arabspring revolution in Egypt was social media, and its fuel was free speech. But sadly, Egypt continues to be a leader in cyberoppression, even after the ouster of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

Agence France Press has reported that Egyptian Facebooker Ayman Yusef Mansur has been sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor because he “intentionally insulted the dignity of the Islamic religion and attacked it with insults and ridicule on Facebook,” according to Egypt’s official MENA news agency.

A court in Cairo determined that Mansur made insults “aimed at the Noble Koran, the true Islamic religion, the Prophet of Islam and his family and Muslims, in a scurrilous manner.”

What is not clear is exactly what Mansur wrote that got him in trouble.

Egypt’s constitution has been suspended since the military took control after Mubarak’s February ouster. Countrywide elections are slatted for November 28, and there are increasing concerns that Islamists will win handily, taking control of parliament and ensuring that a new constitution will uphold Islam as the primary source of law in the country. Presumably that means retaining religious-based restrictions on freedom of speech.

Freedom is a delicate, delicate thing. As hard as it was to get rid of Mubarak, it will be far harder still to win lasting freedoms.

(Ha’p Eugene Volokh,In Egypt, Three Years in Prison for “Insulting Islam”)

Angela Daly: Private Power and New Media

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Logo of the European University InstituteAngela Daly of the European University Institute’s Department of Law has posted to SSRN Private Power and New Media: The Case of the Corporate Suppression of WikiLeaks and its Implications for the Exercise of Fundamental Rights on the Internet (SSRN No. 1772663).

Here’s the abstract:

The focus of this paper will be the recent conduct of various corporations in withdrawing Internet services provided to information portal WikiLeaks in light of the controversy surrounding WikiLeaks publishing classified documents of correspondence between the US State Department and its diplomatic missions around the world in late 201’3 The implications for freedom of expression (especially the right to access information) on the Internet will be examined in the wake of WikiLeaks, particularly in the context of the infringer being a private actor, and one comprising a mono- or oligopoly. The motivation of these private actors in contributing to the suppression of WikiLeaks will be assessed to examine whether it constitutes an example of Birnhack and Elkin-Koren’s ‘invisible handshake’ i.e. the ‘emerging collaboration’ between the state and multinational corporations on the Internet that they posit is producing ‘the ultimate threat’. The legal recourse open to WikiLeaks and its users for the infringement of fundamental rights will be examined, especially the First Amendment to the US Constitution since the geographic location for these events has mostly been the USA. Finally, the postscript to the WikiLeaks controversy will be considered: the “information warfare” conducted by hackers will be examined to determine whether the exercise of power of these Internet corporations in a way which infringes fundamental rights can be checked by technological means, and whether hackers are indeed the true electronic defenders of freedom of expression.

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:

UN Report: Criminalization of Blogging

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Blue flag of the United NationsBelow is another excerpt that I think’s worth reading from the recent United Nations Human Rights Council report [pdf] on freedom of opinion and expression.

This excerpt of the report decries the criminalization of blogging:

… any restriction to the right to freedom of expression must meet the strict criteria under international human rights law. A restriction on the right of individuals to express themselves through the Internet can take various forms, from technical measures to prevent access to certain content, such as blocking and filtering, to inadequate guarantees of the right to privacy and protection of personal data, which inhibit the dissemination of opinions and information. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that the arbitrary use of criminal law to sanction legitimate expression constitutes one of the gravest forms of restriction to the right, as it not only creates a “chilling effect”, but also leads to other human rights violations, such as arbitrary detention and torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

One clear example of criminalizing legitimate expression is the imprisonment of bloggers around the world. According to Reporters without Borders, in 2010, 109 bloggers were in prison on charges related to the content of their online expression. Seventy-two individuals were imprisoned in China alone, followed by Viet Nam and Iran, with 17 and 13 persons respectively.

Imprisoning individuals for seeking, receiving and imparting information and ideas can rarely be justified as a proportionate measure to achieve one of the legitimate aims under article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Special Rapporteur would like to reiterate that defamation should be decriminalized, and that protection of national security or countering terrorism cannot be used to justify restricting the right to expression unless the Government can demonstrate that: (a) the expression is intended to incite imminent violence; (b) it is likely to incite such violence; and (c) there is a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence.

UN Report: Internet as Human Rights Issue

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Blue flag of the United NationsThe United Nations Human Rights Council has published a report [pdf] by Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The document is heavy on analysis of online expression, looking at the internet as a human rights issue.

I’ll post various key excerpts on more specific topics in coming days. But first, here are some key excerpts of the report regarding the importance of the internet for free expression. There is a lot of good sense in here. Most importantly, the internet strongly identified as implicating human rights issues. Additionally, we get the counsel that because the internet is special, it deserves freedoms from regulation that traditional forms of media may not enjoy.

These excerpts are from paragraphs 2, 19-23,

The Special Rapporteur believes that the Internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies. Indeed, the recent wave of demonstrations in countries across the Middle East and North African region has shown the key role that the Internet can play in mobilizing the population to call for justice, equality, accountability and better respect for human rights. As such, facilitating access to the Internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible, should be a priority for all States. …

Very few if any developments in information technologies have had such a revolutionary effect as the creation of the Internet. Unlike any other medium of communication, such as radio, television and printed publications based on one-way transmission of information, the Internet represents a significant leap forward as an interactive medium. Indeed, with the advent of Web 2.0 services, or intermediary platforms that facilitate participatory information sharing and collaboration in the creation of content, individuals are no longer passive recipients, but also active publishers of information. Such platforms are particularly valuable in countries where there is no independent media, as they enable individuals to share critical views and to find objective information.

Indeed, the Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. …

… the framework of international human rights law remains relevant today and equally applicable to new communication technologies such as the Internet.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is as much a fundamental right on its own accord as it is an “enabler” of other rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, as well as civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of association and assembly. Thus, by acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Internet also facilitates the realization of a range of other human rights.

The vast potential and benefits of the Internet are rooted in its unique characteristics, such as its speed, worldwide reach and relative anonymity. At the same time, these distinctive features of the Internet that enable individuals to disseminate information in “real time” and to mobilize people has also created fear amongst Governments and the powerful. This has led to increased restrictions on the Internet through the use of increasingly sophisticated technologies to block content, monitor and identify activists and critics, criminalization of legitimate expression, and adoption of restrictive legislation to justify such measures. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur also emphasizes that the existing international human rights standards, in particular article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, remain pertinent in determining the types of restrictions that are in breach of States’ obligations to guarantee the right to freedom of expression.

However, in many instances, States restrict, control, manipulate and censor content disseminated via the Internet without any legal basis, or on the basis of broad and ambiguous laws, without justifying the purpose of such actions; and/or in a manner that is clearly unnecessary and/or disproportionate to achieving the intended aim, as explored in the following sections. Such actions are clearly incompatible with States’ obligations under international human rights law, and often create a broader “chilling effect” on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In addition, the Special Rapporteur emphasizes that due to the unique characteristics of the Internet, regulations or restrictions which may be deemed legitimate and proportionate for traditional media are often not so with regard to the Internet. For example, in cases of defamation of individuals’ reputation, given the ability of the individual concerned to exercise his/her right of reply instantly to restore the harm caused, the types of sanctions that are applied to offline defamation may be unnecessary or disproportionate.

Similarly, while the protection of children from inappropriate content may constitute a legitimate aim, the availability of software filters that parents and school authorities can use to control access to certain content renders action by the Government such as blocking less necessary, and difficult to justify.12 Furthermore, unlike the broadcasting sector, for which registration or licensing has been necessary to allow States to distribute limited frequencies, such requirements cannot be justified in the case of the Internet, as it can accommodate an unlimited number of points of entry and an essentially unlimited number of users.

Sino Clean Energy Joins DEER in Suing Short Blogger Alfred Little

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Sino Clean Energy facility in China (Photo: SCEI)

A while back I recounted the story of how DEER, the maker of small kitchen appliances, was suing the blogger going by the name of “Alfred Little” of the stock-tip blog Seeking Alpha.

Now James Sterngold and Dune Lawrence of Bloomberg report that DEER has been joined by fellow U.S.-listed Chinese company Sino Clean Energy Inc. (SCEI) in suing Little.

The Bloomberg story says, “The cases are the most significant efforts by Chinese companies that trade on U.S. exchanges to fight back against bloggers and short sellers who have questioned their accounting practices.”

Shenzen-based DEER’s shares have plummeted 41 percent since Little’s negative report on Seeking Alpha. (Which, by the way, disclosed that Little was short DEER. To which any investor reading the post must have said, “Duh.”) Xi’an-based Sino Clean Energy’s shares are off 49 percent since Little wrote a post headlined “Sino Clean Energy Is a Complete Hoax and Its Shares Are Worthless.”

Okay, now, here’s what Sino Clean Energy does, according to its own website:

Sino Clean Energy is commercial producer and distributor of coal-water slurry fuel (“CWSF”) commonly referred to as Coal Water Mixture (“CWM”) which is clean fuel that consists of fine coal particles suspended in water.

Clean fuel? I’m sorry, is it just me, or does a slurry made of water with fine coal particles suspended in it sound like the dirtiest thing ever? I mean, that stuff is going to stain. You’ll need Lava soap, a pumice stone, and at least 20 minutes of hand washing after you put your hands in that, I’m thinking. Before you write me and tell me they mean “clean burning,” I get that. But I still find it hilarious to call “coal-water slurry” clean fuel.

Anyways, Bloomberg has a source that says Alfred Little is a “cover for a group of investors and research analysts, most of whom are Chinese, who are making money exposing fraud in Chinese U.S.-listed companies.”

If this is really market manipulation, shouldn’t buying shares of these companies at depressed prices be a terrific bargain? And if that’s true, shouldn’t the market solve this problem without involving the courts?

Neither DEER nor Sino Clean Energy responded to Bloomberg’s requests for comment. If I were an upstanding U.S.-listed Chinese company screwed over by market-manipulating short-selling bloggers, I would have been all over that attempt to defend myself.

That seeming reluctance to talk, combined with a shady way these companies had of getting listed on American exchanges, called a “reverse merger,” plus the fact that DEER and Sino Clean are being sued in shareholder class-actions, makes me suspect that free speech is doing exactly what it’s meant to do here.

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.”

The Sorry State of Blog Freedom in Vietnam

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Map and flag of Vietnam

Vietnam continues to be a woeful example of suppression of online speech. From the Reporters Without Borders dossier on the country:

Online media and blogs, mainly those hosted on WordPress, Multiply or Blogspot, thanks to contributions from citizen journalists, have acquired a de facto status equivalent to a sort of independent private press and are having a growing impact on public opinion. … Bloggers are carrying out actual field surveys whose results could not be published in the traditional media. Thanks to the Internet and to the debate and opinion-sharing spaces which it offers, a virtual civil society has emerged. Pro-democratic activists and critics of the government have found refuge there, which worries the authorities.

UNESCO Celebrates Press Freedom with Press Restrictions (Again)

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

World Press Freedom Day 2011 graphic with copyright notice: "© UN Foundation and WPFD 2011 Executive Committee / World Press Freedom Day 2011"

World Press Freedom graphic reproduced without permission and in knowing and intentional violation of UNESCO's terms of use. So there.

Today is the UN’s World Press Freedom Day. I note this year, as I did last year, that UNESCO is celebrating the day while making conspicuous assertions of I-me-me-mine intellectual property entitlements to their graphics. And their terms of use, by their own terms, disallow the re-use of their graphics for editorial commercial purposes:

All contents on this website are protected by copyright. UNESCO is pleased to allow those who may choose to access the site to download and copy the materials for their personal, non-commercial use.

Any copy made of the materials must retain all copyright and other proprietary legends and notices in the same form and manner as on the original. Any use of textual and multimedia information (sound, image, software, etc.) in the website shall be accompanied by an acknowledgement of the source, citing the uniform resource locator (URL) of the page (Title of the material, © UNESCO, URL).

No other use of the materials is authorised without prior written permission from UNESCO.

It’s so silly. I suppose if they aren’t aggressive with their assertions of IP, they’ll have the folks from WIPO harassing them at the next UN cocktail party.

The CIA: Copyrightless Image Agency

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow
(Photo: CIA)


Here’s a tip on how to get copyright-free images to use to illustrate your blog posts: The CIA World Factbook. It’s a public domain set of images, maps, and text about the countries of the world, courtesy of America’s spooks.

I’ve used CIA World Factbook images on this blog to illustrate posts about Peru and Ireland.

There’s more background by me on Pixelization.

NPR on Arrested Blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

NPR logoNPR’s All Things Considered has a story about military repression in post-Mubarak Egypt. The story discusses law student and blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, arrested 11 days ago for posting a blog entry saying the military was not with the people, despite its claims to the contrary. Sanad has been charged with insulting the military and harming state security. Each count carries a potential sentence of three years in prison.

Cricketer’s Twitter Libel Suit Sustained

Monday, March 14th, 2011

A court in the United Kingdom has rebuffed an attempt to throw out a Twitter libel suit brought by a New Zealander cricket player.

Cricketer Chris Cairns of New Zealand, a right-handed allrounder, alleged that cricket administrator Lalit Modi libeled him with a tweet about match fixing.

Modi’s attempt to have the case dismissed was based on the argument that so few people saw the allegedly libelous tweet, that it would be a waste of court resources. The court did not agree, saying in its decision,

A claimant’s primary concern in a libel action is vindication, not damages for what has been suffered in the past. So the damage that has occurred before the action is brought may not give an indication of the importance of the claim. Vindication includes a retraction, or a verdict for the claimant, or a judgment to the effect that the allegation complained of is false.

The Pinsent Masons law firm discusses the decision on their Out-Law blog.

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.

Benihana Review Gets Kuwait Expat Sued

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

An online banner ad for Benihana's new Kuwait location

Mark Makhoul, a blogger and Lebanese expat who lives in Kuwait, has been sued by the owner of a Benihana franchise for writing an unflattering review on his Two Forty Eight a.m. blog. The suit seeks $18,000 in damages.

The blog post that got Makhoul sued is, at least once you know he got sued over it, surprisingly not all that negative. I mean, it’s negative. But it seems pretty tame by lawsuit standards.

Whether it’s defamatory under Kuwaiti law or not, one thing is crystal clear: Whatever the restaurant hoped to accomplish with their lawsuit has backfired in the most spectacular way. The story of Benihana Kuwait’s unpleasing chicken is now burning up Twitter, and television news shows are lining up to interview Makhoul.

Internet karma strikes again. Like a razor sharp cleaver through rubbery chicken.

Makhoul blogs about getting sued in post headlined “I’m Getting Sued by Benihana”. He says his lawyer has advised him to keep mum about it. But for those who want to learn more about the lawsuit, he has posted a court document in the original Arabic, along with a version translated into English.

I’ve read the English translation, and it’s a little confusing. The document is phrased as an “order,” but the way Makhoul talks about the lawsuit, it’s just in its beginning stages, with nothing determined as of yet. By his description, all that has happened so far is that he has been sued, and he is awaiting a court date in March. That leads me to guess that the posted document is something along the lines of what you would call a “proposed order,” a lawyer-drafted document that is submitted to the court with the hopes (sometimes high hopes) that the judge will simply sign at the bottom, turning the party’s litigation wish list into an enforceable mandate.

One thing that comes through in the document is that the restaurant is also apparently bent out of shape that Makhoul took photographs and video in the restaurant without permission. Hmmm. Where I come from, juggling knives in front of customers while spotlighted with track lighting counts as implied permission. But maybe I’m old fashioned that way.

From Makhoul's video taken at Benihana, which he posted along with his review

More:

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.”

WNYC Interview of Previously Censored Tunisian Blogger Lina Ben Mhenni

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Lina Ben Mhenni

Lina Ben Mhenni, photo from her blog

WNYC’s On the Media has run an interview of Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, whose blog, A Tunisian Girl, was banned under now-deposed dictator Ben Ali’s regime.

Ben Mhenni’s influential blog posted pictures of people injured and killed during the recent Tunisian protests.

In the interview, Ben Mhenni says she is currently being followed everywhere and relentlessly harassed by the police, but that there is nonetheless a burgeoning sense of freedom of speech in the country. Journalists are able to work in the open, and her blog is no longer being censored.

While her blog was banned, only foreign audiences were able to read it. Now, she says, her domestic audience is building.

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.

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:

Letter to Santa re Law o/b/o Bloggers

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Dear Santa:

On behalf of bloggers across the USA and around the world, BlogLawBlog respectfully requests the following:

With warm holiday wishes,

Eric E. Johnson

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.

Fired Lawyer and Sex Blogger Sues Allen & Overy

Monday, December 20th, 2010

From the homepage of self-described "naked poet," Deidre Dare (a/k/a Deidre Clark)

Deidre Clark was fired from the Moscow office of London-based law firm Allen & Overy after it came to light that she was behind the online identity of Deidre Dare (NSFW).

Clark, a lawyer from New York, blogged about her sex life and penned an online book, Expat, about sex and drugs in the Russian capital, which she said was based on her own experiences at A&O.

Word from A&O is that Expat used names of A&O employees and even the name of a client.

In addition to her book, Clark’s website contains poetry, philosophical musings, and a set of boudoir photos of herself. Let me warn you: Her whole site should be considered NSFWUYHTEOBALP (Not Safe For Work Unless You Have The Excuse Of Being A Law Professor).

She is now suing her former employer for wrongful termination, seeking more than $5 million in damages.

I don’t know much about British or Russian employment law, but my thought would be, good luck with that!