Arthur Bright's blog

Juicy No More

You know the economy's bad when even college rumor-mongering isn't making a profit any more.  That's right, JuicyCampus.com, the website dedicated to anonymously posted collegiate gossip, has closed up shop.  In a post announcing the shutdown, Matt Ivester, the founder and CEO, put the blame on "these historically difficult economic times," in which "online ad revenue has plummeted and venture capital funding has dissolved."

Despite Ivester's hope that Juicy Campus would be remembered as "a place for the fun, lighthearted gossip of college life," it seems unlikely that such will be the case.  The Associated Press recounts some of the highlights of the website's forums:

Fraternities and sororities cruelly attacked each other. Typical discussion threads included "Biggest slut on campus" and "easiest freshmen." Others identified women who had gained weight and one post named a rape victim and said she "deserved it."

Several student government associations asked their colleges to block access to the site from campus networks, and a handful — including Tennessee State and Hampton — did so. New Jersey prosecutors, meanwhile, were investigating whether the company was violating the state's Consumer Fraud Act. No charges were filed.   read more »

Live Blogging in the Courtroom, Is It Journalism?

One of the recurring themes I've discovered in my reading assignments for law school is that judges are, by and large, not technologically savvy.  Far from it, in fact.  Thus, it was of great interest to me to find an ABA Journal article about U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett, who recently allowed a journalist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette to blog live during the a tax fraud trial in his Sioux City, Iowa, court.

Bennett was favorably inclined when a reporter for the Cedar Rapids Gazette e-mailed him to ask if she could use a laptop computer to cover the tax fraud trial of a local landlord by posting live courtroom updates. Bennett took a few days to think it over, and responded that he would allow it, provided that the reporter, Trish Mehaffey, sat farther back in the courtroom where her typing would not be a distraction.

“I thought the public’s right to know what goes on in federal court and the transparency that would be given the proceedings by live-blogging outweighed any potential prejudice to the defendant,” Bennett told the ABA Journal.

The landlord, Robert Miell, was convicted of filing false tax returns as part of an insurance fraud scheme, according to Mehaffey’s stories in the Gazette. Mehaffey carried news of the verdict through an interactive live blog and brief updates on Twitter.com.   read more »

Obama Moves Quickly to Increase Government Transparency

Well, that was quick.  Just a day into his new administration, President Obama issued a pair of memos and an executive order all aimed at increasing government openness.  The Washington Post reports:

Obama reversed George W. Bush's restrictions on access to records of former presidents. He also told the Justice Department to write new guidance to agencies on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to improve transparency, and gave top officials in his administration four months to create a new "Open Government Directive" that he said would go beyond the requirements of the open records law.

The Associated Press writes that Obama's executive order completely undoes an order that President Bush signed in the aftermath of 9/11, granting past presidents broadened executive privilege to prevent the release of their White House papers.  The AP writes that Bush's order had been seen "as ushering in a new era of presidential secrecy."

The two memos Obama signed go further in ushering that new era back out the door.  The FOIA memo, citing Justice Brandeis' statement that "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants," orders federal agencies to "act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation" when responding to FOIA requests made by the public.  Further, the memo orders the adoption of "a presumption in favor of disclosure."   read more »

German Courts Say Nein to Google Image Search

Google appears to be learning the hard way that there's "kein fairer Gebrauch" (no fair use) in Germany.  The Internet search giant lost two German copyright decisions Monday, as the courts ruled that the thumbnail images that appear in Google Image Search violate German copyright law.  Bloomberg reports:

Google's preview of a picture by German photographer Michael Bernhard violates his copyrights, the Regional Court of Hamburg ruled, his lawyer Matthies van Eendenburg said in an interview today. Thomas Horn, who holds the copyrights on some comics that were displayed in Google search results, won a second case, court spokeswoman Sabine Westphalen said in an e-mail.

"It doesn't matter that thumbnails are much smaller than original pictures and are displayed in a lower resolution," the court said in its ruling for Bernhard. "By using photos in thumbnails, no new work is created," that may have justified displaying them without permission.

Naturally, Google was none-too-pleased by the ruling and plans to appeal, according to PC World.  The company said in an email that it believes "that services like Google Image Search are entirely legal and provide great value and critical information to Internet users."  "Today's decision is very bad for Internet users in Germany," it added.   read more »

Virginia Supreme Court: State Anti-Spam Law is Unconstitutional

It looks like Jeremy Jaynes, the first person in the United States to be convicted of a felony for spamming, is going to get a free pass, thanks to a decision handed down by the Virginia Supreme Court last week striking down Virginia's anti-spam law, Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-152.3:1, on First Amendment grounds. 

The Virginia law states that anyone who accesses a server "with the intent to falsify or forge electronic mail transmission information . . . in connection with the transmission of unsolicited bulk electronic mail through or into the computer network of an electronic mail service provider" is guilty of illegal spamming.  Under the statute, the crime can be either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the amount of spam email that the spammer attempted to send.  (Jaynes was found guilty of the felony version in 2004, according to the Associated Press, due to his sending an average of 10 million spam emails per day.)

In a unanimous decision, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the state's anti-spam law necessarily infringes on the First Amendment's protection of anonymous speech.  The court wrote that "because e-mail transmission protocol requires entry of an IP address and domain name for the sender, the only way such a speaker can publish an anonymous e-mail is to enter a false IP address or domain name."  But by making such a falsification illegal, the court ruled, the Virginia statute "infringes on that protected right" of anonymous speech.   read more »

Congressman Wears Two Hats: Legislator and Citizen Journalist

Even elected officials can be citizen journalists.  The New York Times has an interesting report about Representative John Culberson (R) of Texas, who took on a role normally filled by CSPAN after the House had officially adjourned for its summer recess last Friday. When Republican representatives decided to hold what Culberson called a GOP "pep rally" on the House floor, Culberson, an outspoken advocate of using online tools to communicate with constituents, broke out his mobile phone and streamed live pictures using Twitter.  (He did not film the event, however, as doing so is not permitted on the House floor.)  After the speeches were over and the representatives moved to the hall for a press conference, Culberson used his phone to record videos of it, which he later posted to his Qik account.

Interestingly, Culberson's Twitter and Qik posts apparently violate regulations of the Committee on House Administration (CHA).  According to a letter Representative Michael Capuano (D) of Massachusetts sent to CHA in June, CHA's rules have been interpreted to prohibit representatives from posting any official communications on platforms outside of the House.gov domain, such as YouTube. Capuano's letter noted that some legislators find the House.gov sites a difficult and inefficient mechanism for posting video and encouraged CHA to loosen the rules to permit posting of official video content on approved House "channels" on external sites, so long as the content is properly marked and does not otherwise conflict with House rules.   read more »

Google Execs Face Charges in Italy Over Third Party Content

Does the European Union offer web hosts any protection from liability for the content of third parties, a la section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230) or the "safe-harbor" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?  This looks to be a key question for four current and former Google executives, as Italian prosecutors prepare to launch criminal charges against them over a video hosted by Google Video.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported last week that the prosecutors are looking to charge the executives with defamation and invasion of privacy, both of which are criminal claims in Italy, due to Google Video's hosting of a clip featuring the abuse of a teenager who has Down syndrome. Reuters reports that in the video, which was recorded in Turin, Italy, in May or June 2006, four high schoolers are seen "taunting" and "humiliating" the youth with Down syndrome.

An Italian Down syndrome advocacy group alerted Google to the clip's presence on the site in September 2006, and Google removed it "within hours." The WSJ wrote that sources close to the prosecutors said that the charges against the executives would be premised on Google "allegedly failing to adequately control the content of the site."  The four teenagers are facing separate charges.   read more »

Candidate for U.S. Congress Threatens Legal Action Against Blogger

George Lilly, the Republican candidate for Colorado's First Congressional District, says on his website that he considers defense of the U.S. Constitution a "sacred oath."  But after he threatened a libel lawsuit against the Rocky Mountain Right ("RMR") blog, one wonders about his views on the First Amendment.

In a June 9, 2008, post, RMR editor Anthony Surace announced the blog's endorsement of George Lilly's rival in the Republican primary, Charles Crain.  Calling Lilly "no Republican," Surace claimed that Lilly was not sufficiently supporting the Republican ticket in Colorado.  Surace also asserted that Lilly's supporters "made clear they would not support [presumptive Republican presidential nominee] John McCain or [Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate] Bob Schaffer" in the coming elections, and that Lilly's presence on the ticket "could be disruptive enough to harm other Republican candidates running statewide."

This past weekend, Lilly emailed Surace, demanding that the offending post be removed and that RMR issue an apology.  In his email, which Surace posted on RMR, Lilly alleged that Surace had libelously misstated Lilly's support for Schaffer.   read more »

Citizen Journalist Invokes Oregon Shield Law to Fight Subpoena

Does Oregon's reporter shield law apply to an independent journalist who publishes online?  That question looks set to be answered, thanks to the refusal of Tim Lewis to comply with a grand jury subpoena for his video of a May 30, 2008, demonstration in Eugene, Oregon, where police tasered an 18-year-old protester.

While covering the anti-pesticide protest for his YouTube channel Picture Eugene, Lewis filmed part of the police's arrest of Ian Van Ornum, a protester from the University of Oregon.  According to The Register-Guard, a Eugene newspaper:

Lewis said he tried to begin recording when uniformed officers first approached Van Ornum. But he didn’t realize that he had previously protected the tape in his camera from being recorded over.

Lewis said he wasn’t able to slip in a new tape until after a Eugene officer used a Taser stun gun to subdue Van Ornum. Scenes of the teen laying on the ground while handcuffed are included in footage Lewis posted online on YouTube.   read more »

Iran Moves One Step Closer to Ratifying Death Penalty for Blogging

Online free speech has never been well received by the Iranian government, but now Tehran is just one step away from making blogging on certain topics into a capital crime. 

Under a new bill approved by Iran's parliament, those convicted of "establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy" will now be eligible to receive the death penalty. The International Freedom of Expression eXchange (“IFEX”), a free speech watchdog, writes that the bill passed on first reading by a vote of 180 to 29, with 10 abstentions. Under Iranian law, the Council of Guardians must now examine the bill to determine if it complies with Sharia and the Iranian constitution. If approved within ten days by a majority of the council, the bill will become law.

Agence France-Presse reported last week that the bill lists several crimes which are already punishable by death in Iran, including rape, armed robbery, and apostasy, in addition to the new criminalization of blogging.

Those convicted of these crimes "should be punished as 'mohareb' (enemy of God) and 'corrupt on the earth'," the text says.

Under Iranian law the standard punishments for these two crimes are "hanging, amputation of the right hand and then the left foot as well as exile".

Agence France-Presse added that the bill says the sentences for such crimes "cannot be commuted, suspended or changed".   read more »

Miami Judge Drops Hammer on Photojournalist Who Took Cops' Picture

“Photography is not a crime, it’s a First Amendment right,” proclaims the title of photojournalist Carlos Miller’s blog.  Nonetheless, a jury found Miller guilty of obstructing traffic and resisting arrest without violence during his encounter last year with five Miami police officers that he photographed on a public street.  As a result, Miami County Court Judge Jose Fernandez sentenced him to one year of probation,100 hours of community service, anger management lessons, and over $500 in court fees, well in excess of the three months probation the prosecutor had been seeking.

Miller was arrested on February 20, 2007, after he saw the police questioning a man "in a gravel construction area between the road and the sidewalk," according to a post Miller made a few days later on Democratic Underground, a liberal online forum.  (The post does not indicate how the construction affected traffic along the street.)  When Miller, who was also standing in the gravel area, started to photograph the police, they told Miller to move along.  Miller said he refused, arguing that it was a public street, and continued to shoot photos of the police.  The police then escorted him across the street and, according to Miller, forcibly arrested him.   read more »

WIA Releases Report on Arrests of Bloggers, Does It Overcount?

According to a new report by the World Information Access (“WIA”) Project, 64 independent bloggers have been arrested since 2003, suggesting governments around the world are growing more aware of blogs and more likely to act to silence bloggers.

In the report, WIA researchers write that they used Google and LexisNexis to find arrests of bloggers who were unaffiliated with news organizations.  The researchers found that the number of reported arrests appeared to increase over the years, with just five arrests during 2003, but totaling 36 in 2007.  Arrests were most frequent in China (11), Egypt (13), and Iran (8), and overall Asia and the Middle East accounted for the lion’s share of WIA’s data.  But western nations were not blameless – researchers recorded a blogger arrest in each of Britain, Canada, and France, and three arrests in the U.S. as well (Josh Wolf, Jack McClellan, and Daniel Aljughaifi).  On the whole, WIA reports that the arrested bloggers tended to be males between the ages of 21 and 45, and the durations of their arrests ranged from a few hours to eight years.

The researchers observe that blogger arrests seem to increase during “times of political uncertainty,” noting for example that most of Egypt’s arrests took place during its 2007 elections.  The researchers predict that 2008 will likely see a further increase in the arrests of bloggers, as China, Iran, and Pakistan all have elections this year.   read more »

U.S. Blogger Facing Criminal Libel Charges in Singapore

Singapore officials Monday amended the charge against blogger Gopalan Nair, a U.S. citizen who blogs from Fremont, California, accusing him of insulting a public official for his criticism of Singaporean Judge Belinda Ang that he published in his blog, Singapore Dissident, last month. The original charge had asserted that Nair insulted Ang in an email.

In late May 2008, Nair, a former Singaporean lawyer before he emigrated to the U.S., attended a sentencing hearing in the defamation trial of two members of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. The defendants had been found guilty of libeling former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s son. Lee Kuan Yew, whom Nair frequently criticized in his blog, testified at the hearing.

In his May 29, 2008 blog entry, Nair wrote that Ang, who presided over the hearing, "prostitut[ed] herself during the entire proceedings, by being nothing more than an employee of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and his son and carrying out their orders." In another blog entry, Nair challenged Lee Kuan Yew to charge him with defamation, writing "I am now within your jurisdiction.... What are you going to do about it?" On the evening of May 31, Singaporean police arrested Nair in his hotel and put him in solitary confinement until he was released on bail on June 5.   read more »

   
 
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