Lee Baker's blog

Beverly Stayart Supports Seals, Not Cialis: Section 230, Search Engines, and Vanity Queries

Search engines have become the new deep pockets in this age of cyber-litigation.  Despite the fact that they do not control the content of the sites they index in any way, people still routinely seek to hold them liable for unsavory or objectionable things that appear in search results.  One might have thought that passage of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“Section 230”) back in 1996 would have curtailed such suits, but alas, this has not been the case.   read more »

“Crass and Uncouth” MySpace Posting not Grounds for Expulsion

  read more »Once again, the powers that be are all in a tizzy because of content on a social network.  Joining the ranks of city officials, private employers, and high school administrators in sanctioning speech online is the dean of a nursing school.  As in the Houston’s Restaurant case, however, her non-proportional response has been corrected by a court of law.

Another One Bites the Dust: Roommates as a Hail Mary for Frivolous Lawsuits

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Yet another lawsuit that probably should never have been brought has been dismissed due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ("Section 230"), despite the court’s earlier indulgence in allowing the plaintiff to amend her complaint and get a second bite at the apple.  The case is Goddard v. Google, Inc., and in his July 30 opinion Judge Jeremy Fogel reconfirmed that Section 230’s protections are broad, while indicating that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com, LLC, 521 F.3d 1157 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) should be construed narrowly.

Educators Reprimand Student for Private Facebook Messages

The Supreme Court once famously said that public school students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”  Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969).  Implicit in this quote is the understanding that outside the schoolhouse gate, students are entitled to full First Amendment rights.  Unfortunately, educators (and even some judges) seem to have forgotten this recently, with a spate of cases involving students being reprimanded for off-campus speech.  Although many previous examples have at least involved distasteful public speech surrounding school officials, the latest example is especially egregious, as it involves private speech that does not really implicate the school at all.   read more »

Warning: UK Libel Law May be Hazardous to Your Health

It seems that the American Congress is not the only group enraged by England’s plaintiff-friendly libel laws.  Sense About Science, a British charity that promotes public understanding of science, is lobbying the British Parliament to amend its libel laws in a campaign called Keep Libel Laws Out of Science.    read more »

Feeding the Hand that Bites: Statutory Misinterpretation in the Name of Good

One common criticism lodged by constructionist judges against some of their judicial brethren is that, in their quest for “fair” results, they often misinterpret or outright ignore the plain text of a statute.  The majority of a Tenth Circuit panel seems to have fallen into this trap in a recent case involving section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“Section 230”), despite the admonitions of a fellow panel member in a carefully constructed concurrence.

Section 230 immunizes an interactive computer service (ICS) from liability as "the publisher or speaker" of any information provided by another information content provider (ICP). 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1).  Section 230 defines an ICP as one who "is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided." 47 U.S.C. § 230(f)(3).   read more »

House Passes "Libel Tourism" Bill

Earlier this month, the United States House of Representatives passed H.R. 2765, an amendment to Title 28 of the US Code that would “prohibit recognition and enforcement of foreign defamation judgments.”  The bill goes beyond H.R. 6146, which passed through the House last year in a number of ways (elucidated below).  Both bills were introduced by Rep. Steven Cohen.   read more »

Principal Censors School Paper: Claims "Old English" Font Promotes Gang Activity

Another week, another restriction of student speech.  S.K. Johnson, the principal of Orange High School in (where else?) Orange, California, has confiscated copies of a student magazine prior to publication.  His main complaint about the latest issue of PULP concerns the cover, which features a faux full-back tattoo with the publication’s name and a picture of a panther, the school mascot.  The principal alleges that the image promotes gang life and might encourage students to get tattoos, singling out the use of Old English font to create “gangster-style writing.”   read more »

Tenth Circuit Upholds Restrictions on Student Speech

In a recent decision, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Colorado District Court’s rejection of a student’s First Amendment and Equal Protection claims over a forced apology resulting from her valedictory address.  The case, Corder v. Lewis Palmer School District No. 38, No. 08-1293, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 11668, results from an unwritten School District rule requiring students to submit their valedictory addresses for content review prior to giving the speech.  Erica Corder, one of fifteen valedictorians selected based on their 4.0 GPA, submitted a thirty-second speech, which contained no religious content, to the principal of Lewis Palmer High School for content approval.  However, during the graduation ceremony she presented a different speech, telling the students about Jesus Christ and encouraging them to “find out more about the sacrifice He made for you.”  As a result of the speech, she was denied her diploma until she issued an apology email, including the statement: “I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did.”  Corder issued the apology email, including the preceding statement, and was awarded her diploma.     read more »

Search Warrant Quashed in Boston College "Hacker" Case

On May 21, 2009, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court quashed a search warrant for the computers, electronic equipment, and digital storage devices of a Boston College computer science student and ordered the seized items returned. Riccardo Calixte’s ordeal has received quite a bit of coverage, likely in part because of the involvement of the EFF, but there are a couple of interesting points in the Court’s order that are worth highlighting here.   read more »

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