Founded in 2007 as the "Citizen Media Law Project," the Digital Media Law Project (DMLP), through its five core initiatives, works to ensure that individuals and organizations involved in online journalism and digital media have access to the legal resources, education, tools, and representation that they need to thrive.
Although some sectors of the journalism industry have recently shown signs of economic recovery, the future of investigative journalism remains uncertain and many local news markets remain underserved. And yet, this is a period of striking innovation; experiments with new business models abound as innovators in the journalism space attempt to fill the information gap left by the contraction of traditional news organizations. Professional journalists laid off by traditional media outlets have discovered a new voice through independent online ventures. Organizations and individuals without professional journalism training or affiliations have launched websites and blogs that perform functions similar to those carried out by traditional media.
But unlike established media organizations that have the resources to pursue important reporting in the face of legal challenges, many online journalism and publishing ventures lack the expertise and financial resources necessary to protect themselves and to thrive in an uncertain legal environment. Indeed, without legal assistance, one threatening letter can close an important avenue of reporting, and one lawsuit can shut down a promising journalism site.
In this critical time of transition, legal training and information tailored for the needs of independent journalists and online news ventures, as well as others who seek to address the information needs of their communities, can be vital to their success. Access to counsel experienced in media and business law can guide these parties through the risky early stages of a venture, and allow them to stand up for their First Amendment rights when their content is challenged. Ongoing research into urgent legal issues affecting the journalism industry permits the development and deployment of tools and resources designed to respond to these issues.
The DMLP is a project of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a research center founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development.