Archive for May, 2013

Moore Tornado

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

The terrible tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma was just a few miles north of where I live in Norman. It was visible from the hill where I live – although only indirectly. The funnel could not be seen through the rain, but the power flashes were clearly visible. Here you can see some of my neighbors watching.
From the time that the tornado hit until 9:15 p.m., internet and television were not functioning in my neighborhood. It was a day of listening to the radio. No pictures, no interactivity, just the audio simulcast of KWTV’s television coverage. One reporter almost wretched on the air when coming across a victim who was impaled. Another left a long stretch of dead air when she was unable to continue talking after discussing the reaction of a parent of one of the children lost at an elementary school.

Would Bloggers Be Covered By a Federal Shield Law?

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Since the news of the Justice Department getting their hands on phone records of the Associated Press – without the AP’s cooperation – there has been new talk of a federal shield law.

But how broad would the shield law be? To cut to the chase: Would if cover bloggers?

The issue was nicely teed up in a PandoDaily post yesterday by Adam L. Penenberg:

[W]hen you’re trying to craft laws to protect journalists from having to disclose the identities of confidential sources, the first thing you must do is define what a journalist is. Unfortunately, that’s not so easy, because, well, what is a journalist? I’ve been working as one for almost 20 years, and I couldn’t give you a definition. What’s more, I don’t know anyone who could. More to the point, how do you cover everyone who should be covered in this day, when everybody can be his or her own publisher but not cover those who shouldn’t be protected?

Mr. Penenberg’s post does a nice job of exploring the range of possible ways to deal with that question in surveying some of the many state shield laws in the U.S. and giving some of the history of how false starts on a federal shield law in recent years have dealt with the blogger question.

Of course, there’s also the separate scope question of a national-security exception. With such an exception, the question of who counts as a journalist may often be academic.

Famed Media Lawyer James C. Goodale Calls Out Obama on Press Freedom

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Daily Beast logoFamous media lawyer James C. Goodale (who I was lucky enough to meet when I was a summer associate at his law firm in New York in 1999), has written a provocative piece for the Daily Beast that I think is worth a read: Is Obama Worse For Press Freedom Than Nixon?

Goodale argues that Barack Obama’s campaign to stamp out leaks is trampling on the freedom of the press. He notes that the Obama administration has obtained more indictments of leakers – a total of six – than any other American president. (That’s a factoid I found somewhat surprising.)

To avoid making bad history, Goodale urges the Obama administration to drop any effort to prosecute Wikileaks founder Julian Assange under a theory that the conspired with the Army’s Bradley Manning to violate the Espionage Act. Doing so would breathe life into a legal theory that Goodale calls “extremely dangerous to freedom of the press.”

Such a prosecution, Goodale explains, “would only require that Manning agreed with Assange to leak information. This would be far easier to prove than trying to prove Assange, in fact, violated the Espionage Act.” Going there would “put in jeopardy the gathering of national security information by any reporter and so criminalize the newsgathering process.”

New Booklet on Citizen Journalism Law in Massachusetts

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Newsgathering in Massachusetts coverHarvard Law School’s Digital Media Law Project and Cyberlaw Clinic have released a booklet called Newsgathering in Massachusetts, available as free-to-download pdf.

It’s an information-packed reference tailor-made for citizen journalists, and it includes coverage of
open meeting laws, public records laws, laws regarding access to courts, and laws regarding protection of anonymous sources.

Massachusetts is an especially interesting state for this area of the law. The Boston-born case of Glik v. Cunniffe, discussed in the booklet, is one of the most important citizen-journalist cases to come down the turnpike in the digital era. In that case, a Simon Glik was arrested in Boston Common for filming the police making an arrest of a homeless man. With the help of the ACLU, he got the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals to recognize a First Amendment right to videotape in public places.

Kudos to DMLP and the Cyberlaw Clinic for putting this together.

The Citizen Media Law Project Has Changed its Name to the Digital Media Law Project

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Harvard Law School’s Citizen Media Law Project

CMLP logo

has changed it’s name. It’s now the Digital Media Law Project.

Digital Media Law Project logo

The change was effective March 1, 2013.

I know this change has been in the works for quite sometime. I remember talking to David Ardia, the program’s founder, about this in March of 2011.

I was a fan of “Citizen Media Law Project” as a name, but I like the new name too. Whether you use the word “citizen” or “digital,” the point is that this goes beyond a “media law project” in that it’s focused on the new reporting opportunities and legal threats that have been created and revealed by the democratization of the news media as fueled by computers and the internet.

I guess you could call it the “Non-Traditional Media Law Project,” but that’s pretty awkward. Even worse, it makes it sound like it’s the project that’s non-traditional, rather than the media. Any good copyeditor – even a non-traditional one – would see the problem with that.

So Digital Media Law Project it is. And the change is more than a change in name. There’s also a change in mission.

As project of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the Citizen Media Law Project was launched in 2007 “to support the vibrant online culture of citizen media and independent journalism by providing free legal advice and information on a wide range of media law, intellectual property and business law issues,” as is explained on the project’s homepage.

With the change to “digital,” the project is acknowledging that reporters with their bona fides – that is, people who can be called “professional journalists” – are now increasingly working online and outside of a traditional media entity. They too face a uniquely challenging legal environment.

“Citizen journalists continue to do excellent work,” wrote Jeffrey P. Hermes, the project’s director, in a blog post about the change, “but professional journalists who believe in the potential of online speech have launched numerous independent ventures as well.”

So DMLP is broadening its focus. Hermes wrote, “Our project is no longer limited to addressing the narrow challenges faced by new and inexperienced entrants into the journalism market, but innovating to provide a comprehensive and mutually supporting set of resources to assist digital journalism as a whole.”

Best wishes to DMLP on their rechristening!

Tatyana Dumova on the Future of Blogging

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Point Park University sealTatyana Dumova of Pittsburgh’s Point Park University has posted Social Interaction Technologies and the Future of Blogging to SSRN. It is published in Blogging in the Global Society: Cultural, Political and Geographical Aspects, pp. 249-274, T. Dumova & R. Fiordo, eds.(Information Science Reference 2012). Here is the abstract:

In an age of user-generated content, multimedia sharing sites, and customized news aggregators, an assortment of Internet-based social interaction technologies transforms the Web and its users. A quintessential embodiment of social interaction technologies, blogs are widely used by people across diverse geographies to locate information, create and share content, initiate conversations, and collaborate and interact with others in various settings. This chapter surveys the global blogosphere landscape for the latest trends and developments in order to evaluate the overall direction that blogging might take in the future. The author posits that network-based peer production and social media convergence are the driving forces behind the current transformation of blogs. The participatory and inclusive nature of social interaction technologies makes blogging a medium of choice for disseminating user-driven content and particularly suitable for bottom-up grassroots initiatives, creativity, and innovation.

Fighting to Protect Anonymous Yelpers in Virginia

Friday, May 10th, 2013

White van with Hadeed carpet cleaning liveryIn an amicus brief, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is urging the courts in Virginia to apply a heightened standard of review before ordering that anonymous online commenters be outed.

(I won’t tell you the facts of the case, but the caption is Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, Inc., v. John Doe #1, et al., and the respondent on the other side of the discovery order is Yelp, Inc. So I’m betting you can figure it out.)

The amicus brief ([pdf]) argues, in part:

[T]he First Amendment restricts compulsory identification of anonymous speakers on the Internet. When faced with questions of compelled disclosure of anonymous online speakers, this Court must adopt a meaningful standard that requires a heightened showing of evidence of a valid claim and notice to the affected parties. This standard is essential to protect the interests in anonymous speech, which often serve the public good and contribute to a better understanding of public issues and controversies.

Joining the amicus brief were Washington Post, American Society of Newspaper Editors, and the Gannett Company, which owns USA Today.

(Photo: joehadeed.com. Used without permission.)

Aurora Town Council Apologizes for Suing Bloggers

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Train station in Aurora. (Photo: Secondarywaltz)

The town council of Aurora, Ontario has voted to make a formal apology to bloggers who were on the receiving side of a meritless defamation lawsuit brought by then-mayor Phyllis Morris in her official capacity.

The council’s motion, which passed 6-2, provided:

THAT the Mayor on behalf of Council, be authorized to issue a formal apology to those named in the action and to the community at large stating our commitment to freedom of speech and our regret that the Town of Aurora was ever associated with a SLAPP action … (Town Council Minutes [pdf])

Kudos to the members of the town council who voted in favor of the apology to bloggers Bill Hogg, Richard Johnson, and Elizabeth Bishhenden.

Councillor Michael Thompson, who, made the motion, explained his concept of responsibility: “There will be some who will say we are not the ones who should apologise because we did not create it, but this Council is now the ones who are responsible and accountable to this Town. Whether we create or inherit an issue, it is our role to act upon, if needed. In this case, I believe in the simple principle when you are wrong, do the right thing, admit it, and make amends where possible.”

One of the no votes was one of the people who had reason to take direct responsibility. Councillor John Gallo was one of the original votes on September 14, 2010 to hire outside council to pursue the bloggers. And Gallo was the lone vote against the council’s action to stop funding the legal campaign after the rest of the town council came to their senses.

Coverage:

Prior coverage on Blog Law Blog:

Thanks to vindicated blogger/defendant Richard Johnson for sending in the tip on this.