We are delighted to announce the public launch of the Berkman Center's Online Media Legal Network (OMLN), a new pro bono (i.e., free!) initiative that connects lawyers and law school clinics from across the country with online journalists and digital media creators who need legal help. Lawyers participating in OMLN will provide qualifying online publishers with pro bono and reduced fee legal assistance on a broad range of legal issues, including business formation and governance, copyright licensing and fair use, employment and freelancer agreements, access to government information, pre-publication review of content, and representation in litigation.
The idea for OMLN came out of CMLP's work over the last 3 years helping online journalists understand their legal rights and responsibilities. During this time period, we've published and updated our legal guide and legal threats database, blogged on topics of interest to online publishers, partnered with like-minded organizations on a variety of educational projects, and filed amicus briefs in cases with significant implications for online speech. While we are proud of the impact we've made and the success of the CMLP website, we also recognize that many online journalists and bloggers need more than generally applicable legal information—they need their own lawyers to tackle their own individualized legal issues.
From the press release:
"Unlike established media organizations that have the resources to pursue important reporting in the face of legal challenges, many online ventures lack the expertise and financial resources to protect themselves and thrive in an uncertain legal environment," said David Ardia, director and co-founder of the CMLP. "In order for these new media ventures to survive and flourish, they need a legal safety net, and OMLN aims to provide that safety net with the help of lawyers interested in promoting a vibrant online media environment," Ardia added. Jay Rosen, a blogger, professor of journalism at New York University, and CMLP advisory board member, concurs: "This network is trying to level the playing field for independent online producers. That's why it matters. That's why I support it."
OMLN will make it as easy as possible for participating lawyers and law school clinics to identify appropriate clients. OMLN staff will pre-screen prospective clients and prepare matter summaries so that network lawyers can quickly decide whether they are interested in taking on a question, case, or transaction. These summaries will be sent out to network lawyers via a bi-weekly email newsletter and will be available at any time on the password-protected OMLN website (beta), where members can search and filter client and case information based on client location, type of assistance needed, and legal expertise required. For more information on how the network matches lawyers and clients, see the How OMLN Works page.
OMLN received its initial funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the first corpus of clients is made up of journalism projects that have received grants through the Knight News Challenge. These Knight grantees include some of the most promising ventures and innovative thinkers in online and digital media, ranging from local community blogs to multi-national news aggregators.
With today's public launch, OMLN is accepting applications for legal assistance from online publishers and media creators who meet the network's criteria of viability, adherence to journalistic standards, innovation, independence, original reporting, and public interest. For details, see the OMLN FAQ.
“We are proud to launch OMLN and look forward to collaborating with lawyers and journalists to help ensure that journalism thrives on the Internet,” Ardia commented.
CMLP would like to extend thanks to all the law firms, lawyers, and law school clinics that already have generously agreed to contribute their time and expertise to OMLN. If you're a lawyer, pro bono coordinator, or clinic director interested in participating, please submit a membership application, available here.
We would also like to thank Dan Collis-Puro and Anita Patel, the keyboard jockeys at the Berkman Center who built the OMLN site (and spent way too many hours dealing with our nit-picking). Dan, in particular, was instrumental in developing the lawyer matching functionality that makes the entire network run. Thank you both!