Posts Tagged ‘rcfp’

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.)

Duke Drops Subpoenas Ahead of Ruling

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Duke University has withdrawn its subpoenas directed at blogger and academic KC Johnson, who has written extensively about the Duke lacrosse case from 2006.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:

Sunshine Week 2013 Set for Mid-March

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

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.

Amicus Filed for Quashing Subpoena of Blogger Related to Duke Lacrosse Scandal

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Duke University has issued a subpoena seeking a blogger’s notes and correspondence, and the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has filed an amicus brief urging the court to quash the subpoena.

The underlying case is McFadyen & Carrington v. Duke University, which stems from the Duke lacrosse scandal. The subpoena is aimed at blogger, author, and history professor KC Johnson (formally, Robert David Johnson).

Johnson’s blog is Durham-in-Wonderland.

The brief was filed in federal court in Maine. With RFCP filing the brief are the Maine Press Association, MaineToday Media Inc., Bangor Publishing Co., and the Maine Association of Broadcasters.

Court Declares Unconstitutional Illinois Law Against Taping of Police

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

The Chicago Federal Center, home to the Seventh Circuit (Photo: EEJ)

From a press release from the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press:

The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stood up for the public’s right to be informed about the actions of public officials Tuesday when it declared unconstitutional provisions in the Illinois wiretapping law that prohibits audio recording of police activity in public places.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press had argued in a friend-of-the-court brief to the Chicago-based court that the overbroad law was a danger to journalists’ and the public’s First Amendment rights.

“This decision is a First Amendment slam-dunk. The court could not have been clearer about the importance of protecting the public’s right to observe and record the actions of public officials in public places,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “Although Chicago police had indicated they would not enforce the law during the NATO Summit later this month – which we all expect will be accompanied by protests and police activity – it’s nice to have the force of the court’s decision on the right to record those events.”

“The notion that audio recording police activity in a public place, where there is no expectation of privacy, constitutes a felony is absurd and advances absolutely no government interest,” Dalglish added. “We are delighted that the appeals court agreed.”

One little nit: I don’t understand where they get “Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals” from. The full name is the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. So you can shorten it to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, if you like, but it makes no sense to put the “U.S.” between “Seventh” and “Circuit.” It’s kind of like putting something between “United” and “States.” Okay, I guess it’s not that bad. But it’s wrong.

Links:

Free Webinar from RCFP on Covering Protests

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press logoThe good folks at the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press are putting on a free webinar for reporters and photographers who are covering events, such as protests, where they could be blocked from reporting or detained by the police. Examples include the Occupy protests as well as the upcoming political conventions in Charlotte and Tampa. Or, you know, if you are in Los Angeles, your local elementary school science fair.

The one-hour webinar will be held May 9, 2012 from 1:00 p.m. EDT. (That’s 12 noon Central, which is my time zone and the time zone where the next big opportunity for reporter-police interaction will be: Chicago, May 20-21, for the NATO Summit.)

The webinar will be lead by Lucy Dalglish, RCFP Exec Director and Gregg Leslie, Legal Defense Director. It looks like they will be giving both a theoretical perspective on where your journalist rights come from as well as practical advice on what to do when confronted or detained by the police.

Excellent stuff! I am signed up and looking forward to it.

To reserve your own place:

https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/941031095

Illinois Court Rules TechnoBuffalo Blog Not Covered by Shield Law

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Photo of shiny booklet with text, logo, and photo of phone
A leaked image published by TechnoBuffalo.

A state court in Illinois has ruled that gadget blog TechnoBuffalo is not covered by the Illinois shield law. Chris Healy of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports on the decision.

In August of last year, TechnoBuffalo published photos of an instruction manual for a yet-to-hit-stores Motorola Droid smartphone. The photos came to the blog by way of an “anonymous tipster.”

The Johns-Bryne Company, the printers hired to reproduce the material for Motorola, sued the blog to learn the identity of the leak, and the blog claimed the protection of Illinois’s reporter’s privilege law. The court, however, read the statute in a restrictive way, saying that TechnoBuffalo does not qualify as a “news medium” and its bloggers are not “reporters,” thus making the law inapplicable.

TechnoBuffalo has asked the court to reconsider and has vowed to appeal.

The ALL CAPS Defense to Defamation

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Sucks VERY Corrupt Liar EXPOSEFollowing up on Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox, should we go ahead and Confront the ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM?

The case introduces an underappreciated strategy for sidestepping defamation liability. Call it the ALL CAPS libel defense.

If you look closely at the decision, the key behind Cox’s victory seemed to be her wild use of ALL CAPS, Title Caps, and bold typeface, combined with a strong helping of over-the-top invective and continual references to forthcoming proof.

Take a look at this analysis from U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez [pdf]:

Finally, the statements are not sufficiently factual to be susceptible of being proved true or false. Cox repeatedly poses her statements as questions or asserts that she will prove her accusations. For example, she asserts that “a Whole Lot” of the “Truth” is “Coming Soon,” that she “intend[s] to Expose every Dirty Deed,” that Padrick “WILL BE EXPOSED,” that “YOU [meaning Padrick] will BE Indicted SOME TIME, someday,” and that she “WILL PROVE IT ALL.” Padrick Decl. at pp. 1-13. She tells the reader to “STAY TUNED,” and she asks “Kevin Padrick, Guilty of Tax Fraud?” Id. She also states that Padrick is a “cold hearted evil asshole” and is a “Cruel, Evil Discriminating Liar.” Ex. 1 to Padrick Decl.

Defendant’s use of question marks and her references to proof that will allegedly occur in the future negate any tendency for her statements to be understood as provable assertions of fact. Her statements contain so little actual content that they do not assert, or imply, verifiable assertions of fact. They are, instead, statements of exaggerated subjective belief such that they cannot be proven true or false.

Considering all of the statements in the record under the totality of circumstances, the statements at issue are not actionable assertions of fact, but are constitutionally protected expressions of opinion. Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on the liability of the defamation claim is denied.

One way of thinking about this is that Cox’s unconventional style underminded her own credibility to an extent that the court was loathe to treat her allegations seriously enough to make them the basis of a libel case. I’m sorry if that’s harsh. (I know Ms. Cox will probably read this.) But that’s how I interpret the judge’s ruling.

So, I guess the lesson is that if you are going to defame someone, (1) put your foot on the gas, (2) put your pinky on the shift key, and (3) DON’T HOLD BACK!

Hyperbolic “____sucks.com” Blog Cleared of Defamation Liability

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

The Mark O Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Ore. (Photo: EEJ)

An interesting case out of Oregon has held that because of the “looser, more relaxed communication style” of blogs, it was not defamatory for blogger Crystal Cox of obsidianfinancesucks.com to accuse bankruptcy trustee Kevin Padrick of various forms of perfidy.

Cox’s blogged allegations against Padrick includeed money laundering, perpetrating “fraud on the courts,” and engaging in various “illegal activity.”

Most stunning to me, however, was that in one post, Cox strongly implied that Padrick had engaged in “Solar Tax Credit Crimes.” If that doesn’t sound reputation-harming to you, consider the geographical context: This took place in Portland, Oregon, my friends.

True story: P-Town is so environmentally conscious, that even at McDonald’s, after you bus your own table, you have to separate out your recyclables.

So I can only imagine that for Porlanders, Solar Tax Credit Crimes are right up there with murder, arson, and aggravated failure to compost.

But Cox didn’t merely imply things. Cox blogged that Padrick was a “Thief,” a “CRIMINAL,” and a “Corrupt Attorney.”

If you were taking a law school exam, you would quickly identify those statements as being factual assertions, which, if provably false and reptuation harming, could give rise to a claim for defamation.

But the federal court in Oregon took a more realist approach. It concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable reader could not have regarded the statements as provably false assertions.

Why not?

The court said that “the extensive use of hyperbolic and figurative language, and the posting of several questions rather than statements,” tended to show that Cox’s statements were not reasonably to be regarded as provable factual assertions.

What’s more, it mattered that the medium at issue was a blog. The court’s August 23 order, according to the RCFP report, explained: “Blogs are a subspecies of online speech which inherently suggest that statements made there are not likely provable assertions of fact[.]”

Yikes. If this is a victory for blog freedom, it sure comes with a sting.

More:

The Hale Case: What’s Good for Old-Guard Journalists May Not Be Good for Bloggers

Friday, June 10th, 2011

The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has issued a news release about the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Too Much Media v. Hale [pdf of opinion], in which the state’s shield law was held not protect writer Shellee Hale in responding to discovery requests about her sources for allegedly defamatory postings she made on an online message board.

The RCFP piece’s outlook is rosy. New Jersey media lawyer Bruce Rosen is quoted as saying the decision is a “victory for journalists” because, by overturning the intermediate appeals court decision in the case, the burden has been lowered on people seeking to invoke the shield law.

But for those people who care as much about bloggers as old-guard reporters, the takeaway from the decision may be less sanguine.

… Rosen said that individuals who host blogs and view themselves as citizen journalists may face hurdles to invoking the shield law.

“For the general public, [the case] makes it harder for individual bloggers to have automatic protection,” he said.

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.

Texas Court Rejects Ex Parte Request for Restraining Order Against Blogger

Monday, December 27th, 2010

From the websites of dueling Dallas neighbors Lost Society and Barking Dogs

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports that a court in Texas has tossed out a request for a restraining order against a blogger.

The plaintiff, Fernando Rosales, sought the injunction to stop blogger Avi Adelman of BarkingDogs.org from writing about Rosales’s Dallas nightclub, Lost Society. [LINK WARNING: excessive levels of décolletage and thumpy music!]

The injunction request was related to a defamation suit against Adelman. Also noteworthy in that suit, Adelman has invoked Texas’s shield law in resisting a subpoena served by Rosales seeking sources relating to a post about a shooting in the vicinity of the bar.

From BarkingDogs.org:

Let the Sun Shine In

Friday, October 15th, 2010

One of the best legal tools available to bloggers and traditional journalists alike is the Freedom of Information Act.

FOIA, as it’s called, allows anybody to obtain copies of government records upon request. There are exceptions, of course. You can’t get national-security-sensitive classified materials this way, and you can’t get information such as tax returns or medical records that would violate an individual’s right to privacy. But you can get a lot. Once you realize the scope of what the government is required to turn over, it’s truly flabbergasting. We’re lucky to live in such an open society.

The best resource that I know of to help you navigate FOIA is the Federal Open Government Guide from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. RCFP also offers this super handy FOIA letter generator, although I personally would favor a slightly friendlier tone than what comes out of RCFP’s boilerplate. (The civil servant who will read your letter is compelled by law to respond, so you might as well be nice about it.)

You should also know that state governments generally have similar laws, sometimes called “sunshine” or “open records” laws. RCFP has a State Open Government Guide that can let you in on those laws as well.

Anonymous Blog Commenter IDs Ordered Revealed in North Carolina

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

The banner for Home in Henderson, the blog ordered to reveal commenter identities.

A state trial court in North Carolina recently ordered the proprietor of the blog Home in Henderson to release the identities of anonymous commenters who posted allegedly defamatory remarks about a former county commissioner.

Citizen Media Law Project has this post:

Ninth Circuit Weighs In On Internet Anonymity, Consumer Griping At Risk

And the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has this: