Some Interesting Facts on Teens, Online Media, and Cyberbullying

July 16th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

Yesterday I blogged about the Define the Line website, which is headed up by McGill professor Shaheen Shariff. Here’s a few other interesting things I found on the website:

Shaheen Shariff’s “Define the Line” Website on Cyberbullying

July 15th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson
headshot of Shaheen Shariff

(Photo: McGill)

Shaheen Shariff is a professor with the Faculty of Education at McGill University and is also associated with the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism at McGill’s law school. She works on social media issues, with a particular focus on cyberbullying. I had the pleasure of meeting Shaheen at the affiliates meeting of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society last week where she gave a very interesting presentation.

Shaheen takes an approach to the topic of cyberbullying that is at once balanced, scholarly, and practically oriented. You can see this reflected in a website that Shaheen directs, Define the Line, which has a wealth of information on educationlegislation, and policy.

The website’s mission is “clarifying the blurred lines between cyberbullying and digital citizenship.” The concept of “digital citizenship,” is, I think, quite a useful one. Here’s how Define the Line explains it:

The concept of digital citizenship is premised on encouraging and developing learning opportunities for youth to develop their online proficiency, engagement and creativity, rather than focusing exclusively on the ways in which digital media can be used detrimentally. A microscopic focus on the negative aspects of digital communication usage among youth ignores the potential benefits of digital media, and the possibility for youth to engage in socially responsible digital behaviour.

Well said.

 

Blog Law Blog Has Never Cooperated with NSA’s Special Source Operations

June 6th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson


Well, it’s been a busy day for cybernews.

The Washington Post has broken a huge story that the U.S. government, specifically the NSA and the FBI, are accessing e-mails, photos, videos, and other personal data via its “Special Source Operations” – NSA talk for buddy-bud tech companies. The cooperators in this outed “PRISM” program are, according to the Post story, “nine leading U.S. Internet companies”: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.

(Hey, good for AOL getting lumped into the category of “leading U.S. Internet companies.” No doubt they were super-psyched to see that.)

Well, for my part, I can state unequivocally that Blog Law Blog has never cooperated with the NSA or FBI in sharing any data. (But I do use Google Analytics, as do bazillions of others – so be warned.)

In the same news cycle comes the revelation that Chinese government hacking into private American computer systems is far wider and deeper than previously known. They even hacked the 2008 Obama and McCain presidential campaigns.

Unfortunately, I can make no guarantees that Blog Law Blog has not been hacked by the Chinese government. The only real protection I have against being hacked by China is staying below their radar. Which I’m guessing I probably have. (Although I’ve certainly discussed how China is a leading jailer of bloggers, among other things.)

Hey, by the way, did you notice who is missing from that Special Source Operations list? Yup, no Twitter. Good for Twitter. They’ve certainly shown their user-privacy backbone before. And no Amazon or eBay either.

UK Court Rules 7-Word Tweet Libeled Lord

June 4th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

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.

Moore Tornado

May 21st, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

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?

May 17th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

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

May 16th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

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

May 15th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

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

May 14th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

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

May 13th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

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

May 10th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

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

May 9th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

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.

“Diabetes Warrior” Challenges North Carolina Licensing Board’s Attempt to Restrict his Blogging

April 22nd, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson
Steve Cooksey's before-and-after photos.

Steve Cooksey's before-and-after photos. (From his blog.)

A North Carolina diabetic blogger’s lawsuit may help answer the question of when occupational licensing laws can be used to restrict speech.

The blogger, Steve Cooksey, runs Diabetes Warrior, which answers questions sent in my readers about how to manage their disease.

It’s not surprising that Cooksey has raised eyebrows. His advice is decidedly anti-establishment.

“[Y]ou know that we have been lied to by Big Food, Big Pharma and the medical industry,” he tells his readers, “including doctors, diabetes educators, dietitians and nutritionists.”

Cooksey’s slogan is, “Diabetes Management from a Paleolithic Perspective.” Instead of insulin treatment, Cooksey advocates a “primal” diet – one patterned after what humans from the Stone Age would have eaten. His chief claim to expertise on the matter is his own experience as a diabetic. He blogs, “I have not taken a drug since March 2009. I have weaned off drugs and insulin completely… and I have normal blood sugar.”

A month after starting his blog in 2011, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition informed him he was engaging in the unlicensed practice of dietetics. As his public-interest law firm, The Institute for Justice, explains it:

[T]he State Board informed Steve that he could not give readers advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics. The State Board also told Steve that his private emails and telephone calls with readers and friends were illegal, as was his paid life-coaching service. The State Board went through Steve’s writings with a red pen, indicating what he may and may not say without a government-issued license.

So Cooksey sued to vindicate a free-speech right to blog as he sees fit.

He was dealt an early blow when a federal district court dismissed his case for lack of an injury. But the case is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Cooksey quotes his attorney, Jeff Rowes, as saying:

Under the First Amendment, a citizen is injured by the mere existence of a statute that regulates speech. And there are literally dozens of Supreme Court and federal appellate cases saying that you have standing when the government actually tells you that your speech is illegal. The courts have a very relaxed standard for bringing a First Amendment case because the right to free speech is considered to be so important.

Once the court of appeals recognizes that this is a First Amendment case, we expect it to rule that we have standing and send the case back to the district court to be litigated as a free-speech case.

I think occupational licensing, in general, is okay. It is sometimes badly needed to protect consumers from rank incompetence. But such statutes can conflict with free speech. And in this case, it seems to me that the North Carolina licensing authority has indeed gone beyond regulating a profession and has entered into the business of censorship.

(Another case along the same lines is that of Horace Hunter, an attorney in Virginia.)

Sadly, CISPA Passes U.S. House

April 18th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

U.S. Capitol dome in daytimeToday, sadly, the U.S. House of Representatives passed CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (roll call).

The EFF, TechDirt, and the ACLU have explained why CISPA is bad. Basically, it tramples on civil liberties to give government the all clear to go spelunking through your personal data without a warrant.

CISPA now goes to the Senate. Please consider taking a moment to contact your senators to urge them to vote no on CISPA.

Law-student Writing Contest for Tech Law Papers

March 19th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

Marquee law firm Foley & Lardner and techlaw-news website IT-Lex is sponsoring a writing contest for law students which would, as I read it, welcome papers about blog law. Here’s the deets:

THE FOLEY & LARDNER / IT-LEX TECHNOLOGY LAW WRITING CONTEST

CASH PRIZES AND MORE!

IT-Lex, a technology law educational and literary not-for-profit, is
seeking submissions for its inaugural writing competition, sponsored
by the law firm of Foley & Lardner! Write about any issue within the
areas of electronic discovery, privacy, social media, security, or wherever
your technology interests lie. Your 10-15 journal page (approximately
5,000-7,500 word) papers will be read by a distinguished panel of
articles editors, and the top three entries are guaranteed publication
in the IT-Lex Journal, though other meritorious papers may also be
published. Entries must be submitted online at our website (URL
below) by May 1, 2013.

Oh, and did we mention the cash prizes? First place will receive
$5,000.00, second place $1,000.00 and third place $500.00. Plus, the
winners will receive invitations to become Members of IT-Lex and to
join the IT-Lex Law Review. Head over to http://www.it-lex.org, sign
up to be our Friend – it’s free – and check out the full rules and
requirements at http://it-lex.org/writing-contest/.

Duke Drops Subpoenas Ahead of Ruling

March 7th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

Duke University has withdrawn its subpoenas directed at blogger and academic KC Johnson, who has written extensively about the Duke lacrosse case from 2006. The move comes ahead of an anticipated ruling by federal district court in Maine on whether to quash the subpoenas.

More:

Revising the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in the Wake of Aaron Swartz’s Death

February 15th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

Headshot of Rep. Zoe Lofgren

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.)

Movements are afoot to revise the law that was being used to prosecute good-guy hacker Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide last month under the threat of decades in jail.

It’s a crazy world when violating a website’s terms of service can potentially subject you to more prison time than murdering someone. But that’s what the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, in its current form, allows.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Democrat from Silicon Valley, sought comment on Reddit on her plan to introduce Aaron’s Law. She has now posted a revised draft of the bill [pdf].

TechCruch has some news on how the proposal is developing.

The most illuminating piece on the Aaron Swartz case and federal prosecutors’ overreaching is by Jennifer Granick, Aaron’s friend and a former federal defender. It’s broken into two parts. I really can’t recommend Jennifer’s post enough – it’s the best blogging I’ve read in many months.

Related:

Blog Law Blog: Aaron Swartz, Champion of Online Freedom, Dead at 26

PrawfsBlawg: JSTOR: What is it Good For?

Andrew F. Sellars, Citizen Media Law Project: The Impact of “Aaron’s Law” on Aaron Swartz’s Case

Snowed Over by a Driving Ban?

February 10th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

Snow piled up along Somerville Street in Somerville, Mass. on February 9, 2013, the day after a massive snowstorm prompted state officials to issue a state-wide driving ban. (Photo by Darcy, via Flickr)

The blizzard travel ban in Massachusetts I blogged about was lifted yesterday after 24 hours, according to announcement on the front page state’s emergency management agency.

If you are a blogger or citizen journalist who was cited, arrested or hassled by police in Massachusetts or elsewhere during the big blizzard this weekend, please let me know – I’d love to blog about what happened to you.

If you are an attorney representing a citizen journalist or blogger who is facing a fine or jail time for having driven during a weather-induced travel ban which had an exception for news media, I’d love to talk to you as well.

There was no official press release from the governor’s office providing official notice of the lifting of the ban, nor, apparently, is there a superseding executive order.

About the photo: “Somerville Street in Blizzard Nemo” by MoreLife81 / Darcy, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Blizzard of Blog Law

February 8th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

As the 2012 superblizzard hits New England, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has issued an executive order banning motor vehicle traffic in the state.

But among the exceptions – along with the police, firefighters, healthcare workers – is the “news media.”

So, does that mean bloggers and citizen journalists can drive right now in Massachusetts? Are they news media?

The executive order – No. 543 [pdf with signature] – does not define “news media.” So should we interpret that to include only newspaper, television, and radio, or bloggers and independent journalists as well? The stakes are high. The Milford Daily News reports that violations of the ban can be punished with a year in jail.

By the way, the order raises a general constitutional question regarding the unenumerated, but court-recognized, right to travel. I am sure that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would argue that preventing accidents during Snowmaggedon is a compelling government interest and the travel ban is narrowly tailored to serve those ends, so the order would survive whatever constitutional scrutiny put to it.

But I am not so sure. If the travel ban were held to require strict-scrutiny analysis, then a state-wide ban of indefinite duration seems to me not to be narrowly tailored.

When you scrutinize the details, the order seems not to make a lot of sense. Here is the full list of exemptions under the order. Notice anything odd?

  • public safety vehicles and public safety workers, including contract personnel
  • public works vehicles and public works workers, including contract personnel; government officials conducting official business
  • utility company vehicles and utility workers
  • healthcare workers who must travel to and from work in order to provide essential health services
  • news media
  • travel necessary to maintain and deliver critical private sector services such as energy, fuel supplies and delivery, financial systems and the delivery of critical commodities
  • travel to support business operations that provide critical services to the public, including gasoline stations, food stores and hardware stores

Why is travel allowed for gas-station workers if almost no one will need gas since nearly all vehicles are banned?

And the hardware store thing is strange as well. So, hardware stores will be able to have the employees they need to stay open – but no one can drive to the hardware stores. Granted, a few people might be within walking distance of one. But then, what kind of hardware do you need in the middle of a blizzard? I get that there’s a need for plywood before a hurricane hits, but what do you need with hardware during a blizzard?

Finally, I have to say I find it a bit funny that the web-version of the order refers to Governor Patrick as “His Excellency.” I didn’t know anyone in the U.S. used that title. To be fair, Massachusetts has a constitution older than the U.S. Constitution. But still, “His Excellency” seems a little needlessly eccentric.

Blogger Hal Turner Pursues §1983 Case After Acquittal on Threats Charges

February 5th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

Blogger Hal Turner of North Bergen, N.J. is currently pursuing a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the Connecticut State Capitol Police. The cause of action is under 42 U.S.C. §1983 – the general civil-rights statute that allows lawsuits against state officials acting in violation of the federal Constitution.

Last year, Turner was arrested for comments he made on his blog that were interpreted by as a threat against Connecticut state legislators. He wrote, “TRN advocates Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force. … It is our intent to foment direct action against these individuals personally. These beastly government officials should be made an example of as a warning to others in government: Obey the Constitution or die.” (Blog Law Blog, Oct. 21, 2011: State v. Turner: Incitement to Violence and Jurisdictional Questions)

Turner ended up winning an acquittal. Now he is seeking $50 million in his civil suit.

Most recently, Turner is proclaiming a victory of sorts in that suit because the State of Connecticut has retained outside counsel. His statement says, “On Friday, January 25, 2013, a Partner from the mega law firm McCarter & English, LLP filed his appearance in the case and asked the US District Court in New Jersey for an extension of time to answer Turner’s lawsuit. This represents a significant change from the state’s prior decision to utilize its own Attorney General’s Office, which assigned Assistant Attorney General Philip Miller to the case.”

I’m not sure what it means that the state has obtained outside counsel. McCarter & English is a large regional law firm, although I don’t think it is accurate to call them a “mega firm.”

Turner is something of a self-employed First-Amendment tester. He apparently started out as a frequent caller to conservative talk radio shows, then branched out into blogging and webcasting. He currently operates the Turner Radio Network, which bears no relation to media tycoon Ted Turner. (And I can’t figure out why neither Ted Turner, nor his merger-partner Time Warner, hasn’t shut down Hal Turner’s use of “Turner Radio Network” name on trademark grounds.)

No matter how much you like the First Amendment, Hal Turner is one of those people who is hard to root for. His varied causes have included Holocaust denial, white-supremecist causes, and threatening judges.

While involved with white-supremecist groups, Turner was a paid informant on those groups to the FBI. But any effort on his part to work against those groups can contextualize only so much of his ranting.

In June 2009, angered about a case upholding municipal handgun ordinances, Turner blogged that federal judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals “deserve to be killed” and, referencing a Thomas Jefferson quote, wrote that “their blood will replenish the tree of liberty.”

Those comments got him a conviction in 2010 with a 33-month federal sentence. He was released from prison in 2012 to serve out the remainder of his sentence from a halfway house in New Jersey.

Some Blog Law for Super Bowl Sunday

February 3rd, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

NFL logoHappy Super Bowl Sunday!

For some NFL-related blog law, I’ll refer you to a paper I wrote, The NFL, Intellectual Property, and the Conquest of Sports Media, 86 North Dakota Law Review 760 (2010).

It includes mention of the NFL’s extremely aggressive stance toward bloggers that attempt to do play-by-play coverage of games, including it’s ejection of a New York Newsday reporter from Giant Stadium for live blogging.

My conclusion is that the NFL’s press policies and its assertions of intellectual-property ownership represent a threat to press freedoms of the sports and news media.

Sense of Personal Betrayal at Root of Real Housewives Star Suit Against Blog Commenter

January 31st, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

Reality-television star Lisa Hochstein is suing a blog commenter for saying Hochstein “was an escort who also did soft porn in Vegas.”

Hochstein, who is an ensemble case member of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Miami, says the defendant, Jessica Lederman, has been to Hochstein’s house. And that’s apparently what spurred her to sue.

“This person is an acquaintance we’ve invited in our home and who has smiled in our faces. She had no shame in saying these horrible things,” Hochstein told the Miami Herald. “The fact that she knows me and I’ve seen her in my home, well, it just sits the wrong way . I’m not going to go after every blogger and commenter out there. Trust me, I’ve been called way worse. I have thick skin as part of this whole show, but this really struck a chord.”

The legal claims appear to be intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation with a prayer for $15,000.

Hochstein says she didn’t file the lawsuit for publicity reasons. Instead, it’s personal.

“I didn’t want it to get out of hand and I’m all for freedom of speech, but when you know someone personally and act like you’re friendly with them and then go making an accusation like that, it’s a big deal. What have I done to her?”

More:

Miami Herald: #RHOM’s Lisa Hochstein speaks out on controversial blog commenter lawsuit

TMZ.com: ‘REAL HOUSEWIVES’ STAR Sues Internet Commenter Over Call Girl Remarks

Sunshine Week 2013 Set for Mid-March

January 30th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

Sunshine Week – Your Right to KnowSunshine Week, a journalist-created annual event to raise awareness about open government, will be held March 10–16, 2013. The initiative is being coordinated by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of News Editors.

A schedule of events, many of which will be in Washington, D.C., has been put up at the event’s website.

Sunshine Week is sponsored annually by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Corporate mass-media firm Bloomberg LP has kicked in a grant for 2013.

What is now Sunshine Week was started as Sunshine Sunday in 2002 by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. The group launched the event in response to efforts afoot in the Florida legislature to add several exemptions to the state’s public-records law. FSNE credits its initiative with leading to the defeat of around 300 exemptions proposed in the Sunshine State legislature.

Blog Law Blog can’t help but wonder if the Florida-born Sunshine Week is meant to correspond with Spring Break in Daytona Beach. The timing sure is peculiar. And, when you think about it, open-records laws and in-mouth margarita mixing can both lead to exposures of a type. Yikes. Well, here’s to hoping for more being revealed by governments than drunk college students this spring.

Aaron Swartz, Champion of Online Freedom, Dead at 26

January 15th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

Aaron Swartz, a computer programmer who helped create RSS – the open blog syndication standard – and who helped launch Reddit, took his own life on Friday.

His funeral is today in Highland Park, Illinois.

Swartz was facing the prospect of a very long time in prison because of his alleged attempt to download the JSTOR academic archive database, ostensibly to make it available for free.

Swartz was very much a good guy. His prosecution is an example of what happens when the justice system loses its moral compass. He will be very much missed.

A memorial website has been set up.

More:

How to Stop Annoying Notifications on Your Phone

January 9th, 2013 by Eric E. Johnson

Does your phone give you a peppy little notification sound, but then not give you any indication of what it was notifying you about, even after you thought you turned all the notifications off in all your apps?

Would you like to set an alarm on your phone that vibrates silently, without forcing you to choose some sound to play?

If your answer to either of these questions is yes, then I have the simplest hack in the world for you: Silence.

Here you can download an mp3 file consisting of one second of silence:

[right click to download]

Put this little block of silence on your phone like you would a song.

To get rid of all default sound notifications across all apps, select the block of silence as your default notification sound. If you want a specific app to actually be able to notify you with a sound, then if the app allows you to select a different notification sound, then do so for that app.

To have a silent vibrating alarm, then, with your clock or alarm app, select this as the alarm sound, then optionally select vibrate.

You could also choose silence as the personalized ringtone for someone – if that suits your purposes.

The block of silence – or several of them together – is also a way to add spacers between songs in your iTunes playlist (or Banshee, Amarok, Clementine, or other music player software).

Why did I choose to put this up on the blog today? Well, you guessed it, my phone just made a little notification sound and it left no trace of why.

I like my little phone most of the time, but I’m tired of it acting like everything it does is the MOST IMPORTANT thing in my life.

DING! I JUST UPDATED YOUR AIRLINE APP!! Gee, thanks for letting me know that while I’m getting cut off in a construction zone during a rainstorm. And if your battery level gets too low for your comfort, why don’t you let me know that, too, and I’ll just pull over on the side of this bridge and try to flag down a trucker so I can take care of that for you.

After decades of advancement in electronics, we have somehow circled back to the equivalent of the blinking 12:00 from VCRs of the 1980s.

Maybe technology really is cyclical.