Archive for May, 2011

Freedom House Report on Censorship-Circumvention Tools

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

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

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

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

Now That is Impressive

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

I was looking back at the bio of social-media-guru-attorney Michelle Sherman, and I noticed that when she left being a partner at Sheppard Mullin to go to the L.A. County Public Defenders office for a year to sharpen her trial skills, she won all of her jury trials.

I must have read that too quickly in the past, because I hadn’t really appreciated that. Dang.

You quite often hear about prosecutors who have won all their jury trials. Big deal. Let’s be honest. As a prosecutor, winning all your jury trials is kind of your job. If there’s a trial you don’t think you can win, then you can (and in most cases should) let the defendant out on an easy plea deal or simply drop the charges altogether. Then, on top of that, prosecutors have by far the easier row to hoe in court. They have better resources to devote to cases, and juries are famously inclined to side with “law and order.”

Now, public defenders don’t get to choose their clients, and they don’t get to drop the charges if they get tired of the case. And nearly every case they fight at trial is one the prosecutor figured was in the bag. So winning all your jury trials as a public defender is really something. I don’t know how many trials she did, but even if it was just two, that’s really something.

Does LinkedIn Trade Professional Pitfalls for Boredom?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Evan Brown on the latest This Week in Law podcast makes some good points about LinkedIn. At about 11:50 in, Brown describes LinkedIn’s “sweet spot” when it comes to social networking:

[LinkedIn] purports to be and indeed is professional. So, for that reason, folks who aren’t necessarily early adopters … they feel safe joining in there. You know, it’s like, any place where a professional can go and it’s okay to wear a tie, they’ll think, oh, well this is okay. At least I’m not going to stumble and fall and do something that I shouldn’t be doing. I’m not going to embarrass myself. I’m not going to, you know, be falling into some pitfall. You know, the word “pitfall” is something professionals love talking about – lawyers especially – all the “pitfalls of social networking.” You know? There’s very few pitfalls at LinkedIn. So, you know, because of the sweet spot that it’s in, it has this ability to draw in somewhat of a mainstream adopter kind of crowd. And that arises just as much from the fact that, you know, it’s boring there. You don’t go to hang out on LinkedIn.

Well said.

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.”

Don’t Get Too Excited About Your Company’s Social Media Debut Yet!

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Headshot of Michelle Sherman and social media logo

Michelle Sherman of law firm Sheppard Mullin blogs about social media law

Michelle Sherman, a lawyer with L.A.’s Sheppard Mullin, has a new blog post Sherman’s post asks the question:

Is Your Company’s Social Media Launch Ahead Of Its Compliance Program?

What a buzz kill, huh? This is why people don’t love lawyers. You’re all excited about your company’s social media debut, and then all of a sudden you remember, OH YEAH, I HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THE LAW!. And then you have to pay by the hour, and all of a sudden you are really grumpy.

But, of course, Michelle is right. Any business going into social media as a way to win customers and make money ought to learn something about the law before they do. There are a lot expensive mistakes you can make.

And why, you may ask, why has the law thrown up a bunch of hurdles that make for those potentially expensive mistakes? It’s because there are a lot of people who want to use social media to rip off customers. So, basically, the unscrupulous folks out there ruin it for everybody. Next time you’re grumpy about legal bills, pause for a moment to send some bad juju the way of the sleazes out there who are the reason so many laws exist.

Anyway, Michelle’s post contains a nice rundown of the FTC v. Twitter lawsuit (settlement recently finalized) and the FTC v. Google Buzz settlement.

Acai Berries!!! The FTC Closes in on Jesse Willms

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

The life-is-good smile of Jesse Willms (Photo: jessewillms.com)

The FTC has filed a lawsuit [pdf] targeting a Canadian online marketer, 24-year-old Jesse Willms, who has apparently made a fortune selling that acai berry weight-loss stuff. And as you no doubt know, acai berries have been a staple blog ad. Willms himself is a big believer in blogging for dollars. You can read his thoughts in his post Blogging To Grow Your Business.

But to the extent you’re reading that, also consider reading what the FTC is writing:

The Federal Trade Commission has brought a law enforcement action against an online operation that allegedly raked in more than $450 million from consumers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand by luring them into “free” or “risk-free” offers, and then charging them for products and services they did not want or agree to purchase. As part of its ongoing efforts to stamp out online fraud, the FTC seeks to stop the operation’s illegal practices and make the defendants repay injured consumers.

The Toronto Star reports that Willms said in a statement, “We believe our business practices are compliant with the law and are working to resolve this disagreement with the appropriate government agencies.” Big surprise there.

The Star also notes that Jesse Willms says on his blog, “I consider myself to be a hard worker, I understand there are no shortcuts in life, and I believe that fundamentally every successful business must focus on product value and customer satisfaction.”

Another whopping surprise.

The lawsuit looks to be making use of the recently enacted Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act [pdf], which requires online retailers to “clearly and conspicuously” disclose all material terms in a proposed transaction before obtaining the consumer’s billing information. The act also requires the retailer to give consumers an easy way to put a stop recurring charges on a debit or credit card.

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

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

New DOJ Guidance on FOIA After the Milner Case

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

As I’ve said before, one of the best legal tools available to bloggers, especially those with an investigative bent, is FOIA – the federal Freedom of Information Act – along with its state-law counterparts.

There’s been some shifting of the FOIA landscape lately with a new U.S. Supreme Court case, Milner v. Dep’t of the Navy, 131 S. Ct. 1259 (2011) [pdf], which has significantly narrowed the scope of an important exemption – ”Exemption No. 2″ – which allows the government to withhold from disclosure material “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.” (See 5 U. S. C. § 552(b)(2)).

The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has a story discussing new guidance to federal agencies that has just been issued by the U.S. Department of Justice following Milner.

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.”

(Ha’p Milblogging.com)

New York Times on Milblogs

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

James Dao of the New York Times has a good article about milblogging, and how milblogs have moved mainstream.

[T]he Pentagon, which once tried to control or even shut down bloggers, has now joined the social media craze. Generals blog, the armed services all have Twitter accounts, and scores of company and battalion commanders maintain Facebook pages.

What once had the hint of sassy independence or even underground rebellion has gone mainstream.

Eric Goldman on Two Personal Jurisdiction Decisions

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Eric Goldman reviews two recent personal-jurisdiction decisions, including Shymatta v. Papillon, 2011 WL 1542145 (D. Idaho April 21, 2011), about which Eric says, “This ruling is nice because it denies jurisdiction not only for normal blogging activities but also ‘enhanced’ blogging activities like putting podcasts behind a paywall.”

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.