Arthur Bright's blog

Al Jazeera's Laudable Embrace of Creative Commons

Last week the Online News Association's annual conference came to Boston.  Naturally, many prominent news organizations showed up, tchotchkes in tow, to woo attendees – including Reuters, MSNBC, NPR, and CNN among many others.

But of all the exhibitors attending the conference, I'd like to drop a bit of praise on Al Jazeera, and not just because they were giving away really nice keychains.  While poking around their site and materials at the conference, I discovered that Al Jazeera has been offering up video, photographs, and even full-fledged blog articles for public use under Creative Commons ("CC") licenses since January 2009.

This is a truly excellent thing.   read more »

Introducing Guest Blogger Timothy Cornell

I am excited to welcome Timothy Cornell as a guest blogger. 

Timothy is Of Counsel at Perry, Krumsiek & Jack LLP in Boston and takes on a range of internet-related issues, from intellectual property to litigation to startup advice.  He has worked for David Boies and for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Timothy earned his bachelors degree from the University of Chicago.  Before he went to law school, Timothy worked as a journalist at the Boston Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other papers. As a former receiver of prepublication review of his articles for libel issues, Timothy now returns the favor to current writers.

He graduated from Cornell Law School cum laude, and was editor-in-chief of the Cornell International Law Journal.

Please join me in welcoming Timothy to the CMLP blogroll!

Introducing Guest Blogger Itai Maytal

I'd like to welcome Itai Maytal as a CMLP guest blogger!

Itai Maytal is an associate attorney of the New York-based firm Miller Korzenik Sommers LLP. The firm counsels clients on media, intellectual property, entertainment and art law, and has litigated these matters and a broader spectrum of business and commercial concerns for over twenty years.

Prior to joining the firm, Itai was the First Amendment Fellow at The New York Times Company, where he defended libel actions; litigated access to courts and freedom of information issues; counseled the company's newspaper and Internet clients on intellectual property matters and agreements; provided prepublication review; and worked with its journalists on a variety of matters.

In addition to his responsibilities at the firm, Itai also serves as an assistant professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he provides teaching support to mid-career students in the school's 10-week "Journalism and the Law" course. He also serves as an assistant instructor at The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law for the Entertainment and Media Law course.

Before becoming a lawyer, Itai worked as a journalist in a newspaper in upstate New York and for various publications in New York City. He graduated from Yale College. He received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and his law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.

Please join me in welcoming Itai to the blogroll!

Los Terroristas de Twitter?

Imagine you live in a country where criminal attacks on civilians are alarmingly familiar, and reliable reporting from the local media is regrettably unfamiliar.  You hear about an attack on your local school, so you take to the Internet to spread the word on Facebook and Twitter to warn people before it's too late.  Mercifully, the report you heard was mistaken, and everything's okay...

...Until the local government comes and arrests you on charges of terrorism.

Welcome to the situation in which Gilberto Martinez Vera and Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola find themselves in their home state of Veracruz, Mexico.

According to the Los Angeles Times report on the incident, on August 25, 2011, Mr. Martinez, a teacher, and Ms. Bravo, a journalist, heard rumors of an attack and kidnapping by a drug gang at a primary school in the port city of Veracruz (which is located in the state of Veracruz).  Considering the city had already seen a grenade attack at an aquarium that killed a man and injured a woman and two children just days before, it's not unreasonable that they thought these new rumors might be true, and so they tweeted about it.

Naturally, the rumors caused a great deal of panic and confusion among parents - a Veracruz official said that many rushed to school to pull their kids out of classes, and that the chaos led to more than two dozen car accidents.  Fortunately, the rumors were untrue, and all the kids were safe.    read more »

Messing with SLAPPs in Texas

Strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, are one of the most bullying types of litigation out there.  But while the majority of US states have enacted special anti-SLAPP statutes to discourage them, Texas - certainly known for doing things big - is currently considering what could be the strongest anti-SLAPP measure yet.

In simple terms, SLAPPs are used by rich, powerful parties to bully those who publicly criticize them into silence by filing frivolous lawsuits that the critics can't afford to litigate.  Hence, the term "strategic lawsuit against public participation," or SLAPP.  More can be found about SLAPPs in the CMLP legal guide.

A classic example is a frivolous lawsuit brought by a wealthy land developer against a poor environmental advocate critical of the project.  The lawsuit may be utterly without merit and the advocate's criticism may be protected under the First Amendment, but because the advocate lacks the money to fight the developer in court, she's forced to stop her otherwise legitimate speech for financial reasons.     read more »

British Libel Reform - Now With Real Proposed Legislation!

I've been writing about impending British libel reform for almost two years now, putting a post together every time something happens to bring the United Kingdom closer to fixing its quite-literally-backwards defamation laws.  "Ooo, the High Court has tossed a textbook libel tourism case," I cheered in November 2009.  "Aah, the justice minister has publicly endorsed libel reform," I applauded in March 2010.

But now it really looks like libel reform is happening in the United Kingdom.  Finally, FINALLY, the British government has put pen to paper and written a draft defamation bill that addresses at least some of the glaring flaws in the British defamation tort that have earned London the (not-so) honorific of "libel capital of the world."   read more »

Introducing Guest Blogger Joel Sage

I'm excited to welcome Joel Sage as a guest blogger. 

Joel is a Massachusetts attorney and recent graduate of the Boston University School of Law with a deep interest in intellectual property issues.  He has served as a research assistant to noted copyright scholar Wendy Gordon and to syndicated legal analyst and Massachusetts lawyer Neil Chayet of CBS Radio's "Looking at the Law".  Joel was also the executive editor of the BU Journal of Science and Technology Law, which published his note Revenue Streams and Safe Harbors: How Water Law Suggests a Solution to Copyright's Orphan Works Problem.

Joel earned his undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in Illinois.  In addition to his posts here, Joel also writes for his own commentary blog, Legally Sociable, as well as taking photos for his self-titled photography blog.

Please join me in welcoming Joel!

Rethinking Sunshine in the Beehive State

After enacting a colossally backward law in recent weeks that undermined Utah's open records law, the Utah government is now considering a repeal of the bill that earned Utah the Society of Professional Journalists' inaugural Black Hole Award, which goes to "the most heinous violations of the public's right to know."

It's an odd situation.  Just two weeks after he signed HB477 into law, Governor Gary Herbert came out with a commentary in The Salt Lake Tribune calling for the bill's repeal, and promising a special session of the legislature to do so.  The Utah House has endorsed the special session idea, according to the Cache Valley Daily.  And the Utah Senate, where the bill passed twice before in votes of 21 and 23 senators out of 29 in favor, now appears to be close to voting for its repeal.  The Deseret News reports 12 senators have said they will vote for repeal, with 15 needed to make a majority.  Considering just two weeks ago these bodies were enthusiastic in affirming HB477, we're looking at quite the turnaround.   read more »

Software Best Practices and Open Source Derivative Works

We received a request not long ago from one of the lawyers in our Online Media Legal Network who is looking for legal resources on a couple different issues tied to software development, particularly open source software development.  And frankly, they're the sorts of resources that we expect more and more lawyers will have need for.  Thus, we're reposting the requests here - along with my first stab at researching them - in the hopes of drumming up a bit of crowdsourcing to find the answers.

The first request was for best practices, procedures, and policies relating to management of the software development function. Of particular concern is situations where developers are writing original code, licensing commercial code, and using open source code in developing software that is redistributed to nonprofits.  What recommendations are out there for such best practices in complying with the various licenses?

I found three possible resources for this, each with a somewhat different focus.  The first, an IBM article on software development best practices, is mostly for the techie set.  It's also a little old - apparently last updated in 2006 - so it's likely missing newer innovations in the field.

The next is an article from on open source software development - closer to what the lawyer is looking for, I think.  But it's still on the techie, rather than legal, side, and a few years old to boot.   read more »

A Plea for a Tech-Savvy Justice

The United States Supreme Court is, when it comes to technology, almost completely ignorant.

Not exactly a news flash, I know. After all, much was made in the days of Justice Sonia Sotomayor's nomination process about her high level of tech-savvy as compared to her predecessor, Justice Souter, whom Popular Science called a "famous Luddite." But before reading a post on the DC Dicta blog on Monday, I'd always sort of thought that SCOTUS's collective ignorance of common tech was limited to the visibly ancient Justices, like the retiring John Paul Stevens.

Not so, sadly. Judging from the expertise the Court displayed during oral arguments for City of Ontario v. Quon, the majority of the Court appears to be but mewling infants when it comes to technology. From the DC Dicta account:

At one point, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked what would happen if a text message was sent to an officer at the same time he was sending one to someone else.

“Does it say: ‘Your call is important to us, and we will get back to you?’” Kennedy asked.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrangled a bit with the idea of a service provider.

“You mean (the text) doesn’t go right to me?” he asked.

Then he asked whether they can be printed out in hard copy.   read more »

British Libel Reform: Finally to Be a Reality?

The reform of British libel law has been something of a will o' the wisp in recent years.  Every few months it seems, the issue jumps to the fore, either through international pressure, a judicial decision, or a domestic campaign.  But just as quickly, it disappears back into the legal morass.

But finally, it looks like Britain's legal heavy hitters are getting involved.  Last week, British Justice Minister Jack Straw rolled out the Labour government's outline for a long-needed libel reform bill.  The Independent reports:

Mr Straw said ministers were now "convinced" that reform of the law in England and Wales was necessary, amid concerns that existing legislation was having a "chilling effect" on freedom of expression. . . .

"On the basis of all the views that have been submitted, the Government is convinced that reform of the law on libel is needed, and that action should be taken on a number of aspects and procedures," Mr Straw said.   read more »

The Revolution Will Be Tweeted, Hopes the U.S.

Anyone who followed the Green Movement protests in Iran is well aware of the importance of social media to the protesters.  Without Twitter, photo sharing, and other key information-sharing technologies, it's hard to believe that the protests would ever have materialized, let alone in such numbers that the Iranian government couldn't discretely crush them.  (By the way, if you're interested in seeing the social media at work in the protests, I'd highly recommend checking out Andrew Sullivan's blog The Daily Dish at The Atlantic.  Whatever your opinion of Sullivan and his politics, he and his staff have done an excellent job of aggregating the protesters' Tweets, posts, and what have you.)

With the Iran protests in mind, the Treasury Department's decision this week to loosen export restrictions on social media services to Iran, Cuba, and Sudan is really no surprise.  Indeed, The New York Times writes that the regulatory change has been in the works for a while.

The decision, which had been expected, underscores the complexity of dealing with politically repressive governments in the digital age: even as the Obama administration is opening up trade in Internet services to Iran, it is shaping harsh new sanctions that would crack down on Iranian access to financing and technology that could help Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

Critics have said these sanctions are leaky and ineffective, and some say it makes more sense to spread digital technology, which makes it harder for governments to restrict the flow of information within societies, and to prevent their people from contact with the outside world.   read more »

Will Italy's Conviction of Google Execs Stick?

I've no doubt that CMLP blog readers, fellow netizens that you are, are well aware of an Italian court's conviction last week of three Google executives for invasion of privacy of an Italian teenager. 

(In case you missed the story, here it is in short: the teenager (who either suffered from Down's syndrome or autism; reports differ) was filmed by four other teens who were bullying him, and the bullies posted the video on YouTube.  Google promptly removed the video after receiving a formal complaint. Italian authorities then criminally prosecuted four Google execs for defamation and invasion of privacy.  Last week, the Italian court found three of the execs guilty of invasion of privacy; the defamation charges were dropped against all four.  More back-story can be found in my 2008 post when the possibility of charges was first announced.)

Of course, Google is apoplectic. Much of the rest of the media world is too: Mathew Ingram of rounds up:   read more »

Please Sue Me: Is "Please Rob Me" A New Test for Section 230?

Just over a year ago, the rumormonger—and some would say defamatory—website shut down. At the time, I wrote "there's one (and only one) downer to Juicy Campus' shutdown . . . a lawsuit against Juicy Campus could have served as a very interesting test case for the limits of Section 230 immunity."

Ladies and gentlemen, a new contender has stepped into the ring!  Say hello to!

The premise for this website is brilliant, even if potentially a litigation risk. ("PRM") aggregates Twitter posts indicating that the Tweeter in question is not at home.  The folks at PRM aren't doing anything sneaky or hacker-like—they're just doing a simple Twitter search of anyone using—a site that lets Tweeters post their locations on a street map.  The only thing that PRM is adding to the mix is framing content that snarkily suggests that these Tweeters aren't home, and thus, perhaps, would be good targets for robbery.

Lest you get the wrong idea, PRM isn't trying to encourage robbery (technically, we're probably talking burglary).  They claim that they're underscoring the danger of blithely putting location information online for all the world to see:    read more »

Fortress Iceland? Probably Not.

Today, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative ("IMMI") will file a final proposal to the Icelandic parliament to update that nation's journalism laws into a reporter's dream.  But frankly, I'm pretty sure it won't be much help to journalists around the world.

The IMMI is pursuing a quite radical overhaul of Icelandic law to attract media companies and journalists to the country, writes BBC News.  Indeed, one of the proposal's key proponents is Julian Assange, editor of the muckraking Wikileaks website.

"If [Iceland] has these additional media and publishing law protections then it is likely to encourage the international press and internet start-ups to locate their services here," Mr. Assange said.

He believes the political mood in Iceland is receptive to the need for change.

"The Icelandic press has itself suffered from libel tourism, so there does seem to be the political will to push this through."

The IMMI proposal addresses all aspects of media law, beefing up protections for whistleblowers, reporters' sources, and communications with those sources.  It also aims to reduce prior restraints, libel tourism, and the statute of limitations for bringing lawsuits against publishers.  Plus, it offers protection to ISP hosts and implements fee-shifting for winning media defendants.  All in all, it really does seem to be as Mr. Assange describes: taking the best journalism-protection laws from around the world and putting them together in a single jurisdiction.

It's too bad that it probably won't help much.   read more »

Olympic Athletes Can Tweet to Their Hearts' Content

Rejoice, all ye Olympian fans, the International Olympic Committee ("IOC") has said that its athletes can use Twitter!

Apparently there's been some confusion among Olympic athletes as to whether they were allowed to "tweet," as the kids call it. Wired notes that Lindsey Vonn, US Olympic skier, told her some-35,000 Twitter followers that she wouldn't be allowed to post during the Olympics proper, due to the IOC's blogging rules. (Judging by Vonn's Facebook page, to which her website redirects, that might have been hard for her; she seems to be a rather prolific poster.)

Well, the IOC has since itself tweeted that Twittering (Tweeting?) is an acceptable activity for athletes, "as long as it is about your own personal experience at the Games." 

The IOC tweet includes a link to the IOC Blogging Guidelines (pdf). Taking the IOC at its "tweet," apparently so long as the athletes follow the rules in this document, they'll be okay.   read more »

Wikileaks Needs Financial Help

I have a pet theory that perfect informational transparency would make the world a more civil place.  Sure, it might be embarrassing to reveal our personal secrets and foibles to the world, but the tradeoff would be that you'd know when someone was talking out of both sides of their mouth.  In such a world, maybe that senator wouldn't be quite so holier-than-thou when the public knows about his penchant for underage prostitutes.  Or maybe that Member of Parliament having an affair with a teenager would have been a little more tempered in her homophobia.

Of course, such a system is completely unrealistic—people value privacy too much to accept such a thing, and there are simply too many practical obstacles to the free flow of information. Still, the whistleblower site Wikileaks stands as an example of how we can break down some of the barriers to greater transparency. While not without controversy, some of it probably well deserved, the three-year-old site has made a valuable contribution to journalism and to public debate more generally, a contribution recognized on both sides of the political spectrum, from The Economist to Amnesty International.   read more »

Did the US Enable Chinese Hackers to Crack Google?

If you're a regular user of the Webtubes—and if you're reading this blog, you probably are—you're well aware of the kerfuffle that ensued after Google's decision to cease its search-engine operations in China.  And naturally, it's now become a political issue between the US and China.  A recap, in brief:

Google apparently discovered that Chinese hackers had broken into various Gmail accounts, including those of human rights activists.  Google, remembering that China also liked to censor the hell out of Google searches and that this didn't really jive with Google's "Don't be evil" motto, decides to publicly withdraw from the Chinese market. China gets bent out of shape by the accusations of hacking and censorship.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighs in, drawing a comparison between Internet censorship and the Iron Curtain.  Surprisingly, China doesn't like this comparison and calls the US a pot to China's kettle.   read more »

The Double-Edged Sword of Online Free Speech

From a functional perspective, I think that the First Amendment is the most important amendment in the bunch, because it ensures that the people can denounce any injustices the government perpetrates.  To be sure, various other amendments bar greater evils than censorship—the Thirteenth Amendment ban of slavery springs to mind as an obvious example.  But I'd argue that, without the First Amendment, banning such evils would be harder to do as a practical matter without a legally sanctioned watchdog function of constitutional proportions.

But that said, free speech without any limits imposed by government, private party, or simple civility has its drawbacks.  Such is the topic of an interesting post by Gene Policinski, the executive director and VP of the First Amendment Center.  Mr. Policinski, clearly no foe of open discourse, points out that while the Internet has brought unparalleled ability to the masses to speak their peace on every topic known to man, it also seems to have brought about an amazing level of vitriol, unfiltered by either law or simple civility, as well.

[I]n general, we’re free to say what we want, when we want, in just about any place we choose. Therein is a modern-day dilemma: Many of our fellow citizens do just that, in ways that are amplified by the Internet’s reach. As a result, nearly two decades into the World Wide Web era, speech that once would have been limited to a private snarl, sprayed onto a wall or uttered to a small group or friends or colleagues now goes global with the touch of a few keys. . . .   read more »

Massachusetts High Court Applies Fair Report Privilege to Anonymous Account of Closed Meeting

As both a journalist and a techie, I'm pretty keen on the free flow of information, and thus pretty keen in turn on the importance of protecting journalists, both professional and citizen, who are in the business of facilitating that flow. So it was reassuring to see that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on the side of the angels this week in the case of Howell v. Enterprise, granting protection from libel claims to reporters who fairly and accurately report official government proceedings.

The back-story: apparently, one James Howell, a former superintendent of the Abington sewer department, was fired from his job in 2005 for storing "inappropriate images" on a town computer, showing those images to a subordinate, and using a town computer for private business.  The Enterprise, a Brockton-based newspaper, reported several times on Mr. Howell's termination, including quotes from an anonymous commissioner describing a closed session of the sewer commission's deliberations on Howell.   read more »

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