Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

Australia’s Attempts to Curtail Twitter Bullies Ineffectual

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

The Canberra Times is reporting that the leader of New South Wales is asking the Australian federal government for tighter controls on what are called Twitter “trolls.”

The request is in response to an incident in which a star rugby player received an anonymous vulgar Tweet regarding his mother, who died of pancreatic cancer.

To put this in context, online abuses that get almost universal disapproval here in the United States – but that are protected speech under the U.S. Constitution – are actually out of bounds under Australian law, according to the newspaper:

A Twitter user or troll found to ”menace, harass or cause offence” using the social networking medium could be jailed for up to three years.

A person can be prosecuted under this section if they use a ”carriage service” – essentially, any communication device – to pressure another person, in a way that would be regarded by ”reasonable persons” as being ”menacing, harassing, or offensive”.

There are also laws at state level that can be used to stamp out offensive online behaviour.

But there’s one major caveat. Because these “trolls” set up bogus accounts to do their dirty deeds and then deactivate them quickly, it seems that no one has actually been prosecuted for their Twitter behavior.

Fair Use and Reposting Articles About You

Friday, September 10th, 2010

A while back, I noted that under most circumstances, there is no good argument that reposting an entire newspaper story on the web qualifies as fair use under U.S. copyright law.

That being said, the Righthaven litigation has caused me to think about one particular set of circumstances for reposting whole newspaper articles that should generally qualify as a fair use. Those circumstances are when the article directly concerns the person (or entity) reposting it, and the article is not made available online so that the person about whom it was written can deeplink to it.

So, for example, if a newspaper writes an article about you, and then no longer makes that article freely available online, it seems to me there are strong reasons it should be a fair use for you to repost that article in its entirety on your website where people can view it without paying a fee or registering to get a password. To me, this rationale should apply even if you do not comment on the article – a common touchstone for fair-use analysis.

This is a fact pattern that has come up in the Righthaven litigation multiple times – a person or organization reposts an article directly concerning that person or organization. In fact, this is a well-established custom in many arenas, and it is a standard practice for many entities. It is often done through an agent, such as a publicist. The ubiquity of the practice suggests a belief among practitioners that it is not wrongful. Established customs do not always indicate widely held community values, but they often do. Here, I think the custom of entities reposting articles written about them reflects a culturally ingrained sense of fairness – one that copyright law ought to appreciate.

I do not know of any cases that support this view of fair-use doctrine – although I haven’t looked for them. But a lack of precedent wouldn’t mean that the fair-use doctrine should not be applied in this manner in appropriate cases. Fair use is meant to be flexible. The list of examples of fair use and the statutory list of factors to be considered in fair-use determinations are not intended to be exclusive.

When I was in journalism school, I recall one of my professors saying a newspaper can be thought of as “a community talking to itself.” If that is true – and I think it is – then the person being talked about has a strong personal interest in allowing that conversation to continue. Reposting a story ensures that.

We should bear in mind that a newspaper does not just write about stories of interest to the public, a newspaper actually infuses stories with public interest by the act of writing and publishing them.

We know that the First Amendment extends broad rights to newspapers to publish material about private persons where the topic or person is one of public interest. By the same token, private persons ought to have broad rights to republish material from newspapers when that material is written about them.

The free-speech, communicative, and democratic values that protect the right of newspapers to report and publish should also protect the right of persons who are subject to the scrutiny of the press to republish that material. In the great social contract that allows such unfettered freedoms to the press, a limited reposting right could well be considered the benefit of the bargain for the person subjected to the glaring light of the media.

Chicago Police Officer Under Investigation for Blog Post Criticizing Department

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Lt. Andrews riding (from Andrews' blog, photo by

Chicago police Lt. John Andrews is under investigation by Internal Affairs after he posted A City at War With Itself: Chicago – Fast Tracking To Anarchy … on his motorcycle-themed blog The Adventures of a Highway Road Runner.

In the post, Andrews talks about the CPD’s low morale and lack of staffing and leadership. He also criticizes the promotion of a police officer. This seems to be the particular passage that caused the most consternation:

A recent example of alleged political corruption ties to top tier leadership in the Chicago Police Department.

While Superintendent Jody Weis recently appointed Lieutenant Anthony Carothers to Commander of the Englewood District, his appointment has been received by the rank & file with utter disdain. They and some city residents call the appointment of Carothers a true lack of ethical consideration by the Superintendent.

Interestingly, the newly appointed Commander Anthony Carothers is the brother of Isaac Carothers, the Chicago Alderman recently convicted on charges of public corruption in Federal Court. Ironically, their father, William Carothers, also served as a Chicago Alderman until his conviction on public corruption charges in 1983.

The Chicago Tribune quotes Professor Sheldon Nahmod of Chicago-Kent College of Law as saying that there is “a serious First Amendment issue here,” and that the law should shield Andrews from discipline as long as he is writing as a public citizen out of public concern and not just airing a personal gripe.

Nahmod said that Andrews “was griping about the morale of the Police Department in general, the support it’s getting from its supervisors, superiors and from politicians, and that’s not the same thing as a personal gripe,” in the Trib’s quote.

More: Neil Steinberg column in the Chicago Sun-Times: Fed-up cop rips ‘hacks’ running department.

Xinhua Analyzes America’s Free Speech Problem with Anonymity Online

Monday, June 28th, 2010

The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, has distributed an article that analyzes America’s problems with anonymous commenting on blogs and online forums. It’s a fascinating outsider perspective on the USA:

Americans believe that free speech is a right endowed by their Constitution.

The article draws parallels between the policies of individual websites on anonymous posting and a government-mandated system of tracking internet posters by their identity card numbers:

In response to the serious consequences of anonymous posts, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other American publications will require that users provide personal information before posting any comments. … In 2002, when the South Korean government proposed the idea of Internet registration, it triggered a vehement debate on “violating privacy” and “limiting free speech,” similar to the situation the Americans face now. The implementation of this policy faced significant obstacles, but after several years of practicing and perfecting, the South Koreans now accept it. … South Korea is a successful example for America and other nations debating this policy.

(Ha’p: print version of The Week.)