Posts Tagged ‘congress’

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.

Please Help Stop SOPA

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

STOP SOPA

Something very bad may be about to happen to the internet.

The United States Congress, which is currently slightly more popular than the rabies virus, may be on the brink of passing the Stop Online Piracy Act, an outrage that attempts to placate big Hollywood content industries by selling out freedom on the internet.

I’ll be writing about SOPA (and PIPA, as it’s known in the Senate) in upcoming posts. Please take the time to educate yourself and call your representatives.

Also, consider adding a STOP SOPA badge to your website. Feel free to swipe them off of this blog – I handmade these (entirely independently), so I can and hereby do license them to you. And then link them to one of the many explanations out there for why SOPA presents such extreme peril.

The Public Domain Enhancement Act

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Finding pictures and other raw media to enhance a blog can be frustrating – if, that is, you are staying clear of copyright infringement. Of course it would be  much easier to find great images for free and legal use if there were more material in the public domain.

A bill that attempted to get that done was the Public Domain Enhancement Act, introduced in the House of Representatives in 2003 as H.R.2601. It would have required the payment of a $1 maintenance fee on copyrighted works older than 50 years.

That’s not a big out of pocket expense. But by requiring some slight affirmative act by people wishing to maintain their copyright, the law would have caused a slew of works to enter the public domain in cases where the creators didn’t care about retaining the copyright.

Unfortunately, cheap-skates they are, the entertainment lobby defeated the bill.

But maybe in the future? Who knows. It would be nice.

You can read more about it from Larry Lessig (who called it the Eric Eldred Act) and Wikipedia.

When Do Works Enter the Public Domain?

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Copyright protection, under the U.S. Constitution, only lasts for “limited times.” That means eventually (at least theoretically) all copyrighted works, including photos that can be incorporated into a blog post, will enter the public domain at some point in the future.

So how old does a work have to be to enter the public domain?

Well, it’s complicated. You are generally safe assuming something is in the public domain if it was published in 1922 or before. (The hazy legal world of apparent exceptions are discussed here and here.)

Does that mean that next year works from 1923 will enter the public domain?

Unfortuntately, no. The reason why is that Congress has been, for decades now, regularly extending copyright terms at the bidding of the entertainment industry. The latest special-interest windfall was the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (text, summary). Because of this most recent extension legislation, the public domain is stuck at 1922 and will be for quite a while.

The public domain won’t grow again because of copyright expiration until 2019 – unless Congress extends the copyright term again. And you can bet that special interests are lined up to lobby for that extension when the time comes.

Since Disney lobbied hard for its passage, the Sonny Bono Act was dubbed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” by some. Without the law, Mickey Mouse’s original cartoon short films would have entered the public domain by now.

But note that, because of sloppy work done in Disney’s early days, people who have looked at the matter closely (here and here) have concluded that the original Mickey Mouse and the motion picture Steamboat Willie (in which Mickey made one of his first appearances) are no longer the subject of a valid copyright. The public domain status of Mickey Mouse remains untested in court. People tend to be very afraid of Disney lawyers. I can’t imagine why.

Is the Tyler Clementi Act a Threat to Free Speech?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

David French in the National Review Online argues that the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act (H.R. 6425) is a threat to free speech.

As I mentioned previously, the bill specifically targets cyberbullying and includes blogging activity within its coverage. My discussion of the bill is here.

French’s argument is that the bill has First Amendment problems because it lacks a requirement that the harassment be “objectively offensive.”

I see his point, but I think he’s off the mark. The text of the bill requires that the harassment be:

sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive so as to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from a program or activity at an institution of higher education, or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment at an institution of higher education

That seems to me to be limiting enough to protect legitimate expressive interests. At the same time it seems specifically tailored to protecting a person’s ability to benefit from a federally funded educational program.

In fact, the bill’s current limitations seem to be more protective of free speech interests than an “objectively offensive” requirement would be by itself.

An objectively offensive requirement would presumably make a jury issue out of how far the content of the speech deviates from community norms. That sounds to me like a device that could marginalize minority viewpoints and cause more First Amendment problems than it solves.

At any rate, I certainly disagree with French’s assertion that the law’s “primary effect will be a greater chill on free expression.” I think the primary effect would be communicating to gay students society’s revulsion at gay-bashing, as well as our commitment to allowing all students, regardless of sexual orientation, to benefit from America’s educational opportunities.

Federal Law Would Require Colleges to Prohibit Harassment by Blog

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

U.S. Capitol dome in daytimeIn response to the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) have introduced in Congress the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, H.R. 6425.

Clementi killed himself by jumping from the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River after fellow students secretly videotaped an intimate encounter Clementi had with another man and uploaded it to the internet.

The bill specifically targets cyberbullying and thereby brings within its ambit blogging.

If enacted as law, H.R. 6425 would require higher-ed institutions, as a condition of participating in federal financial aid programs, to prohibit “harassment” of students by faculty, staff, and other students, whether that harassment is done on or off campus, and it would include harassment through the use of university computer networks.

Under the bill, “harassment” is defined as:

conduct, including acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility (including conduct that is undertaken in whole or in part, through the use of electronic messaging services, commercial mobile services, electronic communications, or other technology) that –

(I) is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive so as to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from a program or activity at an institution of higher education, or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment at an institution of higher education; and

(II) is based on a student’s actual or perceived — race; color; national origin; sex; disability; sexual orientation; gender identity; or religion.

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some signposting removed]

The bill would also establish a grant program for activities aimed at preventing harassment.

I’m not sure how much good this law would do. Will people sufficiently evil to do what was done to Tyler Clementi be deterred by a campus policy? It seems unlikely. But since you can’t legislate tolerance and compassion, I suppose you do what you can do. If nothing else, a new federal law would be an expression that our society’s self-ascribed moral character is incompatible with bullying young people on the basis of sexual orientation.

More: OpenCongress, NJ.com

USA Today Editorial Supporting Federal Anti-SLAPP

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

USA Today has published  an editorial supporting federal anti-SLAPP legislation to protect bloggers and other non-mainstream-media online complainers.

Obama Signs Law to Require State Department to Report on Blog Repression

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010
Obama signing Daniel Pearl Act

President Obama talks with Adam Daniel Pearl, son of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, at the signing ceremony for the Daniel Pearl Act. (Official White House Photo)

On Monday, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R.3714, the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act. [pdf] [Thomas info]

The law requires the State Department to include information on press freedoms in human right assessments of foreign countries.

The act does not mention blogs or the internet specifically, but Obama’s remarks at the signing did: “All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face; who are the frontlines against tyranny and oppression.”

The law’s requirements include, “a description of the status of freedom of the press, including initiatives in favor of freedom of the press and efforts to improve or preserve, as appropriate, the independence of the media, together with an assessment of progress made as a result of those efforts” and “an identification of countries in which there were violations of freedom of the press, including direct physical attacks, imprisonment, indirect sources of pressure, and censorship by governments, military, intelligence, or police forces, criminal groups, or armed extremist or rebel groups.”