Archive for the ‘microblogging’ Category

Free-Expression Organization Sues Trump Over Blocking People From @realDonaldTrump on Twitter

Friday, July 14th, 2017

partial screengrab of Trump Twitter pageThe Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, along with a number of individuals, has sued President Donald Trump in the federal court for blocking users from his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump. The organization said in a statement, “President Trump and his communications team are violating the First Amendment by blocking individuals from the Twitter account because they criticized the president or his policies.”

The Knight Institute points out that Trump advisors have said @realDonaldTrump tweets are “official statements,” and the organization argues that the president’s Twitter account is a “public forum,” as that term is understood in First Amendment law.

The complaint [pdf] filed in the Southern District of New York alleges:

President Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important public forum for speech by, to, and about the President. In an effort to suppress dissent in this forum, Defendants have excluded — “blocked” — Twitter users who have criticized the President or his policies. This practice is unconstitutional, and this suit seeks to end it.

The lawsuit seems to me to have clear merit. Consider what it means to be blocked on Twitter. According to Twitter support:

“Blocked accounts cannot:

  • Follow you
  • View your Tweets when logged in on Twitter (unless they report you, and your Tweets mention them)
  • Find your Tweets in search when logged in on Twitter
  • Send Direct Messages to you
  • View your following or followers lists, likes or lists when logged in on Twitter
  • View a Moment you’ve created when logged in on Twitter
  • Add your Twitter account to their lists
  • Tag you in a photo”

Of course, it is possible to see President Trump’s tweets even after being blocked by logging out of Twitter. But as the list above makes clear, that’s far from a complete work around for free-speech participation. Also, interestingly, Twitter support says blocked accounts don’t receive a notification letting them know they’ve been blocked.

The Knight Institute is new. It was started last year by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It’s aim is “to defend and strengthen the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education.”

I expect the Knight Institute to prevail, but it is disappointing a lawsuit is necessary and that this could not have been solved by the White House exercising self-restraint. As is so commonly the case, those who so enthusiastically embrace their own expressive freedoms are often quick to dismiss or trammel others’.

British Activist/Blogger Wins Tweet Libel Award Against Columnist

Friday, March 10th, 2017
Monroe and Hopkins

Plaintiff Monroe and defendant Hopkins, L to R, Twitter profile pics

British news is reporting that Jack Monroe (@MxJackMonroe), who writes about hunger and food issues, has won £24,000 (US$29,200) damages award against newspaper columnist and TV personality Katie Hopkins (@KTHopkins) over two tweets concerning war memorials.

The right-leaning Hopkins tweeted Monroe in May 2015: “Scrawled on any memorials recently? Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom. Grandma got any more medals?”

A check of Hopkins’s Twitter feed shows a theme of attempted-attention-grabbing invective. A recipe for risking liability, no doubt, in the UK with its heavy-handed defamation law.

Qin, Strömberg and Wu on Why China Allows Freer Social Media

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Bei Qin, David Strömberg and Yanhui Wu, of the University of Hong Kong, Stockholm University Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES) and University of Southern California Marshall School of Business have posted to SSRN Why Does China Allow Freer Social Media? Protests versus Surveillance and Propaganda.

This paper look absolutely fascinating, as you’ll see from the abstract:

This paper documents basic facts regarding public debates about controversial political issues on Chinese social media. Our documentation is based on a dataset of 13.2 billion blog posts published on Sina Weibo — the most prominent Chinese microblogging platform — during the 2009–2013 period. Our primary finding is that a shockingly large number of posts on highly sensitive topics were published and circulated on social media. For instance, we find millions of posts discussing protests and an even larger number of posts with explicit corruption allegations. This content may spur and organize protests. However, it also makes social media effective tools for surveillance. We find that most protests can be predicted one day before their occurrence and that corruption charges of specific individuals can be predicted one year in advance. Finally, we estimate that our data contain 600,000 government-affiliated accounts which contribute 4% of all posts about political and economic issues on Sina Weibo. The share of government accounts is larger in areas with a higher level of internet censorship and where newspapers have a stronger pro-government bias. Overall, our findings suggest that the Chinese government regulates social media to balance threats to regime stability against the benefits of utilizing bottom-up information.

The paper is forthcoming in the The Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Suicide, Social Media, and Public Health

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

The Washington Post has an excellent story pointing up the irresponsibility of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science in posting the following tweet – “Genie, you’re free” – that romanticizes the suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams, who hanged himself on Monday.

@TheAcademy tweeting "Genie, you're free."

The story notes “[t]he starry sky from Disney’s Aladdin, and the written implication that suicide is somehow a liberating option, presents suicide in too celebratory a light.”

Indeed, it’s pretty perplexing how AMPAS thought this was a good idea. The concern, of course, is that glorifying suicide may inspire copycat suicides. As NBC News reports, there was a significant increase in suicides among white women around Marilyn Monroe’s age when she killed herself in 1962.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has guidelines for responsible reporting and social media about suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline organization has social media guidelines as well.

They urge, when writing about suicide, to note that suicide usually has warning signs and to refer readers to helpful resources.

If you see someone on social media who is expressing thoughts of suicide, you can visit NSPL’s page on how to help. There are even specific instructions for what to do if you see suicidal users on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, You Tube, and MySpace.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website, or call 1-800-273-TALK.

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:

UK Court Rules 7-Word Tweet Libeled Lord

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Gavel coming down on twitter bird, combined with British flagLord Robert Alistair McAlpine was libeled by a tweet from Sally Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, according to a May 24, 2013 decision of UK’s High Court of Justice.

With a question of damages still pending, the parties terminated the litigation with a settlement on undisclosed terms.

Eric P. Robinson blogged that the case “shows — if anyone still had doubts — that tweets can indeed be libelous.”

“In short — appropriate for Twitter — a libel is a libel, no matter how few characters it contains,” Robinson concluded.

A BBC report in 2012 about alleged sexual abuse in a Welsh foster-care home in the 1970s and 80s communicated an allegation by a victim that one of the abusers was a leading Tory politician, but no particular person was named. Social media speculation following the BBC report then centered around Lord McAlpine.

Then came the libelous tweet from Bercow:

Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*

It turns out Lord McAlpine was not an abuser. The ensuing scandal led to the resignation of the head of the BBC.

It appears Sally Bercow abandoned Twitter.

The case is a good example of how defamation can happen indirectly, and by implication. It also provides a good point of contrast with American law – UK law on libel is much stricter and not subject to the strong protections that we have under the First Amendment on this side of the Pond.

For a full unpacking of the facts and law, read Robinson’s thorough post on Blog Law Online. Debuts “Truth” Point System

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 logoSina Weibo – China’s Twitter-like microblogging site – has created a new point system to extend Chinese government influence over what is and is not deemed “true.” New guidelines forbid communicating content considered “untrue,” or which is deemed to “harm national unity,” or “destroy societal stability.”

This sort of speech has long been illegal in China. But with Sina Weibo’s burgeoning 300 million users, website policy may have more reach than the criminal law.

When creating an account on the site, which is also known as, a user gets 80 points of credibility, or 100 points if the user plugs in a government-assigned ID number to create the account and links to a cellphone. Then, whenever the Sina Weibo user communicates something deemed “untrue,” points are deducted. The more people to whom the “falsehood” is communicated, the more points are deducted. For instance, spreading a “falsehood” to more than a thousand other users results in a deduction of 10 points and a 15-day account suspension. Users can gain points by staying in compliance with government censorship policies. Once the points fall below 60, the user is deemed “low credit.” Once the points get to zero, the account is closed.

Sina Weibo has been a key means of the dissemination of information about disasters and government scandals that the Chinese government has tried to play down, deny, or bury. This new point system will presumably cause Weibo users to self-censor to avoid account closure, helping to allow the Chinese government to bring social media to heel.


Lori Andrews on Social Media, Privacy, and the Red Cup Menace

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Book coverThe ABA Journal has an interview of Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT’s Chicago-Kent and author of the new book, I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social Networks and the Death of Privacy.

I tend to agree with what she says. For instance, she calls it “ludicrous” that courts do not consider e-mails to be presumptively private. I completely agree with that.

I’ve just ordered the book off Amazon.

I’m particularly eager to hear more of Andrews’s social-media horror stories, some of which she relays in the interview, including the “red cup” cases, where institutions have assumed that a red cup in a posted photo contains an alcoholic beverage.

Avirl holding red cup at camera[Note to underage partiers: The grown-ups now know about the red cups! You guys were safe when it was just you and the cool kids like Avril Lavigne (pictured at left, from Rihanna's "Cheers (Drink to That)" video). But that's no longer the situation. The PTA crowd undoubtedly picked this up from country singer Toby Keith latest bar anthem, "Red Solo Cup." Or maybe they heard the cover version done by the Glee Cast. At any rate, in my professional opinion as a legal scholar, once a meme goes through Toby Keith and Glee, it's too late to recall it. Your best bet now is the blue solo cup,  available from all fine cup retailers everywhere.]

blue solo cup
Blue is the new red.
Photo: Solo, with others, CC BY 2.0.
(Altered with GIMP.)

UPDATE: My apologies for saying “Red Solo Cup” is Toby Keith’s “latest” bar anthem. It turns out he has released another since then. Blog Law Blog regrets the error.

Also in the interview, Professor Andrews  provides her views on how the law is coming up short in dealing with social media. There’s also an interesting excerpt she reads in which she talks about the importance of the judges clothing and the ambiance of the courtroom. Interesting observations. Sounds like it will be a good read.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Sorry about this. It turns out that since I started drafting this post, Toby Keith has released yet another bar anthem. So, that means “Red Solo Cup” would be his third most recent … wait here comes another …

Shareholder Lawsuits Quickly Follow Facebook’s IPO

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Nasdaq chart of Facebook stock
Facebook’s falling stock. (Image: Nasdaq)

Facebook and its investment bankers are being sued over an IPO that didn’t “pop” the way so many investors were hoping. After debuting at an issue price of $38, Facebook’s stock has fallen to a low of $30.94. As I write this, it’s trading at a little over $32.

On Friday, I did a post about the law of IPOs. I talked about how much paperwork you have to file with the SEC in order to do a public offering, including a long, boring document called an S-1. So tedious, almost no one will read it. Almost. As I said:

You know who reads S-1s? Other lawyers. In particular, litigators. Lawyers who are looking for some misstatement or some unmentioned fact that will serve as a basis for a lawsuit based on federal securities law. And then it’s off to the courthouse!

Ahem. That didn’t take long. According an Associated Press story published yesterday:

One suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, claims Facebook’s IPO documents contained untrue statements and omitted important facts, such as a “severe reduction in revenue growth” that Facebook was experiencing at the time of the offering.

AnnaMaria Andriotis at SmartMoney adds an interesting footnote to this whole story about a trend of declining payouts in securities class-actions. That means the Facebook lawsuits may be just as disappointing to investors as the IPO.

Thumbs Up for the Law of IPOs

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Facebook thumbs-up symbol with "cha-ching" and large asterisk

I talk about the lawyering behind Facebook’s IPO on the Stanford CIS blog.

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.

Juror Tries to Friend Litigant

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

WTSP TV logoBeau Zimmer of WTSP television in Florida reports that Jacob Jock, a male juror in a vehicular negligence civil suit attempted to friend the “young, attractive” female defendant. Good for her she didn’t accept the friending. Instead, she altered her attorney, who told the judge, who kicked the guy off the jury.

Then the ex-juror, who has a large helping of some kind of reverse common sense, proceeded to get on Facebook and brag about how he got out of jury service.

That finally did it, and the judge held him in contempt. Now he’s facing possible jail time.

BTW, USA Today mis-credited Beau Zimmer as “Ben Zimmer”.

Christine Neylon O’Brien on Facebook Firing

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Boston College sealChristine Neylon O’Brien, Professor of Business Law at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, has published The First Facebook Firing Case Under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act: Exploring the Limits of Labor Law Protection for Concerted Communication on Social Media in the Suffolk University Law Review (vol. 45, pp. 29-66, December 2011). Here’s the abstract:

The emergence of social media, from Facebook to Myspace and Linkedin to Twitter – much like the earlier evolution of email, IM and web 2.0 – have changed communications, expanding the virtual horizons for social networking and business promotion on these popular communications platforms. Smartphones, and other data interfaces including iPads and eReaders, and even internet hotspots in motor vehicles, have encouraged the blurring of work and personal time such that people are tethered to their devices, checking their work and personal messages wherever they are and whatever else they are doing.

In the first case of its kind, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a complaint against an employer, American Medical Response of Connecticut (AMR), for the suspension and firing of an employee who posted negative comments about her supervisor on her personal password-protected Facebook page. The NLRB alleged the employer retaliated against the terminated employee for her Facebook postings and for requesting a union representative at an investigatory interview that led to her discipline, thus violating her Weingarten right. Most importantly, the NLRB maintained that the employer’s social media policy was overbroad because its rules on blogging and internet posting, standards of conduct relating to discussing co-workers and superiors, and solicitation and distribution, interfered with employees’ rights to engage in concerted activities protected by section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The AMR case and the NLRB’s ongoing interest in employer social media policies has signaled that the agency will prosecute companies whose policies interfere with employee communications concerning wages, hours, and working conditions, and other matters for mutual aid or protection on social media sites. Employers should review their policies governing employee communications, including the use of email and social media during non-work time, to ensure compliance with the NLRA.

Dr. Darm Settles Defamation Suit Against Blogger Tiffany Craig in Portland, Oregon

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Jerry Darm headshotOregon plastic surgeon Jerry Darm (Image: Darm, via YouTube)

Blogger Tiffany Craig (Criminally Vulgar, @tcraighenry) has reported that the lawsuit between her and plastic surgeon Jerry Darm has been settled.

This happened back in October, but you’re just now finding out about it on Blog Law Blog, where, with paywall-less blogging, you get what you pay for.

Darm sued for defamation, but then dismissed the suit. It looks like Darm just bailed after he realized that all that was likely to happen was that he would lose and get stuck with legal fees for both sides, thanks to Oregon’s anti-SLAPP law. The complained-of tweet and blog post are staying up.

The suit appears to have arisen out of this blog post, in which Craig embedded a YouTube video, since removed, of an uploaded Dr. Darm television commercial. Underneath, Craig wrote:

Seen that around? Sure you have. If you watch television in Portland Dr Darm is ubiquitous. Especially on those local channels that show endless reruns of Two and a Half Men. He wants to fix you up good and spend thousands on cosmetic procedures that will get funneled straight into his Lake Oswego home.

What he should have added with his Results May Vary disclaimer is Dr. Darm Handed Over His Medical License Due To Disciplinary Action. …

That’s right, he was censured by the state because he was examining female patients without a chaperone. If that’s not bad enough? Apparently needed just a teensy bit more education about how to respect the boundaries of his patients.

Oh and California just decided that he shouldn’t be licensed at all. If he tries to get licensed in California, he has to reapply.

And maybe you’re thinking, “so what if he examined a female patient without a chaperone? How is that a big deal.” You should really read the judgement which says:

“Licensee examined Patient A on August 3, 2000 and September 21, 2000 to evaluate the treatment results. Patient A repeatedly expressed concern about some “spider” veins on her legs, but that she could not pay for additional treatment. Licensee informed Patient A that he would provide her with free treatment at his clinic closing time. On or about November 16, 2000 at about 9:30 PM, Licensee used a laser to treat Patient A’s condition on her legs. At the conclusion of the treatment, as she was reclined on her back, Licensee leaned over Patient A and made intimate physical contact with her and inferred that would be his payment.”

That’s right, he tried to get a woman to sleep with him in exchange for cosmetic surgery.
I’m don’t think Results May Vary is quite enough to warn people off being treated by Dr. Darm.

Assuming the quotes are accurate, how could this be defamatory?

A report on the settlement by Alex Zielinski in the alternative weekly newspaper, the Portland Mercury, implies it was this:

Craig … didn’t note that Darm’s license is now renewed in Oregon.

So what? If the reasonable implication of Craig’s post was that Darm wasn’t licensed in Oregon, then, true, that could be actionable. But when I read Craig’s post, I certainly do not come away with the idea that Darm is unlicensed in Oregon. Quite the opposite. Craig’s post seems to imply that he still is licensed in Oregon.

A better candidate for the allegedly actionable content is this:

That’s right, he tried to get a woman to sleep with him in exchange for cosmetic surgery.

Indeed, the quoted material Craig uses does not support the literal truth of that statement. Making “intimate physical contact” with a patient and “inferr[ing] that would be his payment” does not literally mean that Darm tried to get the patient to sleep with him. But American defamation law is tolerant of this kind of poetic license. An instructive case on this point is another litigation I blogged about out of the District of Oregon in 2011: Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox. (What is up with the onslaught of Oregon defamation-by-blog cases?) According to heritage Portland newspaper The Oregonian the papers filed by Craig’s attrorney, Linda Williams, argued that “the gist” of the blog post was true and that the statements, in context, were opinions based on verifiable facts.


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”)

Twitter Turns Over Identity of Anonymous User in Defamation Case Springing from the U.K.

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Jerry Brito in Time/Techland: Twitter Unmasks Anonymous User in U.K. Libel Case

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.”

I’m Trying Out Quora

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Quora logoI’m trying Quora. If you have questions about blog law, you can try posting them there, and I’ll consider answering them, especially if you tip me off by e-mail.

Syria Torturing Facebookers for IDs and Passwords

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Syria flag and mapAdrian Blomfield of the Telegraph reports that Syria has been torturing protesters to get them to reveal their user IDs and passwords to Facebook and Twitter accounts used for organizing anti-government protests.

And it’s been working.

One activist was quoted as saying that, because of passwords and IDs acquired from torture, “lines of communication have almost been completely severed.”


Kozinski Says Winklevoss Twins Get One Shot Among them at Facebook Suit

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Kozinski has bounced the Winklevii attempt to blow up their settlement agreement and start all over again in their suit against Facebook.

The order is here.

Poor Mark Zuckerberg has been hounded by this. Sketchy business arrangments at the beginning of a venture can definitely lead to big litigation down the line. Indeed, this is a situation that could happen to any blogger with a blockbuster idea.

So, how would I advise you to immunize yourself from a Winklevoss-type suit if you are working on the next Facebook?

I would say just get that next-Facebook thing right. (And then call me about it and ask me to help you with it to create a foggy kind of record that will allow me to sue you for billions of dollars if you turn out to be successful.)

Look, lawsuits always follow the money. You can’t have a runaway business success without attracting some litigation. By all means, hire a good lawyer when you’re making business arrangements at the outset of an entrepreneurial venture. But the better practical advice might be to stay away from prepsters belonging to exclusive dinner clubs.

Court in Cali Bounces Copyright Suit Over 26-Word Listserv Post

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

A case just out suggests that microblog posts, such as tweets on Twitter, might not be copyrightable. Eugene Volokh discusses the case of Kenneth M. Stern, a California attorney, vs. people who forwarded his listserv post. The case is Stern v. Does (C.D. Cal 2011) [pdf].

The complained of comment was 26 words and just a few bytes bigger than a tweet. Here are all 150 characters, which I can fearlessly reproduce here in their entirety thanks to the decision of the Central District:

Has anyone had a problem with White, Zuckerman . . . cpas including their economist employee Venita McMorris over billing or trying to churn the file?

The court held that this was uncopyrightable, on account of being too short, and that forwarding it by e-mail was fair use, to boot.

Google’s “Realtime” Results Skimming Twitter

Monday, March 7th, 2011

On Saturday (March 5, 2011), I noticed for the first time a feature called “realtime results” coming up in response to a Google search query. The feature raises interesting legal questions because it appears to be re-publishing whole tweets from Twitter.

You can see what I saw in the window grab below.

window grab showing Google's realtime search results coming up in regular search query

Click on the image to see an expanded version. (Note that I removed my e-mail address from the upper-right, but the image is otherwise unretouched.)

This is different from what Google has done in the past with reproducing snippets of a page. They are now reproducing whole works, albeit small works that are 140 characters or fewer.

What Google is doing arguably goes beyond “search” and becomes just “skim”. Indeed, watching realtime results float by on Google might well constitute a final destination for many internet users. All the results I saw, by the way, were from Twitter.

Is this copyright infringement? Maybe. Arguably a phrase that is only 140 characters or less is not copyrightable. You could write a whole 50-page law-review article analyzing the copyrightability of tweets. The thing about a suit for copyright infringement is that it would need to be brought by the copyright owners, which are the tweeters, not Twitter. And that seems unlikely to happen.

Is this unfair competition? Maybe. That would be a cause of action that Twitter could possibly use. There’s another law-review article.

There’s also a doctrine known as “hot news misappropriation,” which is a quasi-intellectual-property/quasi-tort cause of action that is rarely used. This doctrine is often applied – more in theory than in litigation – to things like realtime stock quotes. Could Twitter sue for that? There’s another long law-review article you can write.

My short answer is, I don’t know. But Google’s realtime results do strike me as being a lot less “fair” than regular search results. This all continues to fit into Google’s pattern of act first and determine legality later. It’s the whole “better to ask for forgiveness than for permission” thing, of which examples are Google book search, Google street view, Google image search, viewable cached pages, and Google’s road testing of its self-driving car.

NLRB Settles Case, Ambulance Company Agrees to Revise Overly Broad Blogging Rules

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

The National Labor Relations Board ended up settling its case against Connecticut ambulance company American Medical Response, who fired an employee for posting comments about her supervisor to Facebook.

Here’s how the NLRB explained it:

The NLRB … alleg[ed] that the discharge violated federal labor law because the employee was engaged in protected activity when she posted the comments about her supervisor, and responded to further comments from her co-workers. Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees may discuss the terms and conditions of their employment with co-workers and others.

The NLRB complaint also alleged that the company maintained overly-broad rules in its employee handbook regarding blogging, Internet posting, and communications between employees, and that it had illegally denied union representation to the employee during an investigatory interview shortly before the employee posted the negative comments on her Facebook page.

Under the terms of the settlement approved today by Hartford Regional Director Jonathan Kreisberg, the company agreed to revise its overly-broad rules to ensure that they do not improperly restrict employees from discussing their wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers and others while not at work, and that they would not discipline or discharge employees for engaging in such discussions.

The company also promised that employee requests for union representation will not be denied in the future and that employees will not be threatened with discipline for requesting union representation. The allegations involving the employee’s discharge were resolved through a separate, private agreement between the employee and the company.

Anna Explains How Not to Tweet Your Way to Court

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

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

Anna’s best advice is this:

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

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

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

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

50 Cent Pumps Penny Stock to 32 Cents via Twitter

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

50 Cent's Sleek-brand cans. (Image: Sleek Audio)

Of all the ways there are to get in trouble blogging, one I don’t think we’ve talked about at all here on Blog Law Blog is violating federal securities law.

Rapper 50 Cent may have come close to that in the last several days. He unleased a series of tweets that encouraged his Twitter followers to buy into a penny stock he owned.

It looks like the stock was about 4.5 cents a share before the tweets started. It then skyrocketed to a peak of 32 cents about 4 days later. According to reports, that netted 50 Cent around $9 million – at least on paper.

But apparently he hasn’t cashed in. And that, according to one Denver law firm’s blog, means he probably hasn’t run afoul of the law.

Shares have now leveled out at around 28 cents a share. While that’s off its peak, it’s still way, way up from where it was.

The stock, HNHI, is a business that distributes Fiddy’s headphones, which are apparently chasing the success of Dr. Dre’s own brand of cans.

According to Chris Barth on the Forbes blog Between the Lines, 50 Cent’s Twitter feed included:

  • “HNHI is the stock symbol for TVG sleek by50 is one of the 15 products this year. If you get in technically I work for you. BIG MONEY”
  • “TVG’s stock went from 5cent to 10 in one day. You can double your money right now. Just get what you can afford.”
  • “HNHI is the stock symbol for TVG there launching 15 different products. they are no joke get in now.”
  • “You better get in now TVG I’m never saying this again. Watch how this company blows up.”
  • “Ok ok ok my friends just told me stop tweeting about HNHI so we can get all the money. Hahaha check it out its the real deal. ”

Then, at a point at which Barth suspects 50 Cent got some legal advice, those tweets were deleted. Then some new tweets:

  • “I own HNHI stock thoughts on it are my opinion. Talk to financial advisor about it”
  • “HNHI is the right investment for me it may or may not be right for u! Do ur homework”

From @tweetlawtweets

tweetlawtweets Eric E. Johnson
50 Cent pumps stock w/ tweets, makes ~$9m, then deletes and starts tweeting disclaimers. Bottle fulla bub or SEC “hug”?