Sam Bayard's blog

Legal Blogger Threatened by Big Law Firm Over Posting of Ridiculously Bad Song

David Lat runs a legal tabloid blog called Above the Law, which provides "news and gossip about the profession's most colorful personalities and powerful institutions, as well as original commentary on breaking legal developments." No stranger to notoriety in the past, he's recently become the center of attention in a humorous episode involving a leaked "celebratory anthem" created by the law firm, Nixon Peabody, when the firm made Fortune magazine's 2007 list of the best companies to work for. The song is embarrassingly bad -- As Frank Pasquale of Concurring Opinions puts it, "think 'Up With People' meets Sheena Easton meets B of A's version of U2's One." Lat himself writes:

On the musical merits, the song itself is just as horrific as the idea of a law firm theme song. Yes, we miss the eighties, but not this much. The lyrics include such gems as "Everyone's a winner at Nixon Peabody" (the chorus) and "It's all about the team, it's all about respect, it all revolves around integri-tee yeah." . . . Check it out for yourself below. But we're warning you: even though the Nixon Peabody anthem is dreadful, it's as catchy as HPV. If that "everyone's a winner" chorus gets stuck in your head for the rest of today, don't blame us.

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Another Valuable Resource for Online Judicial Decisions

Following up on our post about Carl Malamud's project to create a free resource for court decisions online, there's been another important advance in this area this week. On Wednesday, AltLaw launched its free legal search engine, which lets users perform full-text searches of the last 10 years of federal appellate and Supreme Court opinions. Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor and one of the heads of the project, writes about AltLaw:

Obviously the program is beta and unfinished. We don't think, in its present form, that Altlaw can serve as a full substitute for a commercial legal database. But the crucial word is YET. With help or on our own we're going to do at least the following before we consider Altlaw beyond beta:

  • Expand coverage; both in terms of dates and jurisdictions;
  • Link citations with cases; and
  • Create smart, advanced searches, beyond which other databases have.

This is another important step forward for citizen access to the decisions of our nation's courts. The CMLP applauds AltLaw, which is is a joint project of Columbia Law School’s Program on Law and Technology, and the Silicon Flatirons Program at the University of Colorado Law School.

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MidEast Youth Project Launches Petition to Unblock WordPress in Turkey

Following up on our posting yesterday about WordPress in Turkey, the MidEast Youth project has launched a petition calling on the Turkish government to invalidate the judicial decision to block the entire WordPress blog-hosting service in that country. The petition states:

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WordPress Blocked in Turkey

Reports (here, here) indicate that, in its entirety, has been blocked in Turkey. People trying to visit the website get the following message: "Access to this site has been suspended in accordance with decision no: 2007/195 of T.C. Fatih 2.Civil Court of First Instance." The founding developer of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg, began writing about the situation last week on his personal blog, and he received a letter on Saturday night from a Turkish attorney representing Mr. Adnan Oktar, who apparently is a Turkish national and the author of books written under the pen name Harun Yahya. Mr. Oktar's attorney claims that another Turkish national, Edip Yuksel, started a number of WordPress blogs dedicated to defaming his client. The attorney says that he sent a number of letters complaining about the alleged defamatory statements to the WordPress legal department and apparently to Matt personally. According to the letter, he then brought the matter before a Turkish court, which granted Mr. Oktar's request to block access to in Turkey. The letter demands that WordPress "remove and prohibit any blogs in [its] site that contain my client's name Adnan Oktar or his pen name Harun Yahya or various combinations of these 4 names."

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Activist Takes on West Publishing Seeking Unfettered Public Access to Court Decisions

The New York Times reports that Carl Malamud and his non-profit organization, Public.Resource.Org, have begun an ambitious campaign to make US court decisions available to the public for free online. According to its website, Public.Resource.Org seeks to create an "unencumbered public repository of federal and state case law and codes." To do this, Malamud will be scanning West Publishing's federal and state case reporters,"extracting the public domain content and republishing it on the Internet for use by anyone." Malamud has already started with West's Federal Supplement, Federal Reporter, and Federal Appendix. So far, only cases from the 1880s are up on the website.

Interestingly, Malamud has a successful history of challenging publishers and getting government information released to the public. In the 1990s, he spearheaded a campaign that led to the US government making records from the Securities and Exchange Commission (EDGAR) and the Patent and Trademark Office available to the public for free.

Lawyers have long anticipated a move of this kind because court decisions and statutes are not copyrightable. West Publishing and its primary competitor, LexisNexis, do not own the copyrights to the decisions that they publish in print or post to their subscription-based online services. Rather, the publishers own the copyrights only to the content that they add to the published opinions, such as syllabi (which summarize the general holding of each opinion), head notes (which summarize specific points of law discussed in each opinion), and "key numbers" (which categorize points of law into different legal topics and subtopics for research purposes). They also own the copyrights to the particular selection and arrangement of the opinions in their case reporter volumes. This is a relatively thin layer of copyrightable material -- it is fairly clear that a competitor or interested citizen could copy and distribute cases found in West's reporters, so long as the syllabi, head notes, and "key numbers" were redacted, and so long as the reproductions did not duplicate the West reporters' original selection and arrangement of cases. See, e.g., Matthew Bender & Co. v. West Publishing, 158 F.3d 674 (2d Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 526 U.S. 1154 (1999).

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U.S. Senate Approves FOIA Amendments

Last Friday night (8/3), the United States Senate passed the the FOIA reform bill, S.849, before retiring for its August recess. We discussed the proposed FOIA amendments in detail a few weeks ago, when Senator Kyl was still holding the bill up in the Senate. The most notable aspect of the draft legislation from our perspective is its expansive definition of "the news media," which appears to encompass bloggers and other online journalists. The bill also establishes a tracking system for individual information requests, reinforces FOIA deadlines for federal agencies, allows for recovery of attorney's fees when a requester is forced to file suit, and creates a FOIA ombudsman to help resolve disputes between the public and agencies without litigation.

When Congress reconvenes in September, the Senate and House (H.R.1309) versions of the bill likely will go to Conference to resolve small differences between them before final passage into law (assming, of course, that there is no presidential veto). (Please see the Open Congress website to search for the most recently available text of S.849 and H.R.1309.)

The CMLP applauds this important step towards greater efficiency, transparency, and fairness in handling requests for government information.

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Revised Federal Shield Bill Clears the House Judiciary Committee

The U.S. House of Representatives has taken an important step forward on the federal shield bill (H.R.2102), which we've discussed in greater detail before. The proposed legislation would protect those "engaging in journalism" from having to testify about or produce documents relating to their work, and from revealing their anonymous sources, except under specified circumstances. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee approved an amended version of the bill after two hours of debate, sending it to the House floor for consideration.

The amended bill is not currently available online, but reports (here, here and here) indicate that the new version extends protection to bloggers as long as they derive "financial gain or livelihood" from their journalistic activity. Some in Washington are unhappy because this definition of journalistic activity is too broad, complaining that the "financial gain or livelihood" standard opens the door to anyone whose blog or websites raises even a small amount of revenue through ads. Conversely, some online sources are trumpeting the amended version as a victory for bloggers, with headlines like "House panel approves legal shield for bloggers" and "US law to protect bloggers."

Both sides miss the (fairly) obvious point that the the recent revision narrowed the scope of journalistic activity protected by the law. Don't get me wrong. The revised legislation seems like a good start, and the "financial gain or livelihood" standard may well be broad enough to drive a truck through, providing plenty of room for enterprising bloggers. But the revised bill does potentially (and arbitrarily) exclude those citizen journalists who choose not to have ads or other marketing tools on their sites. We'll reserve judgment for now, monitor the bill closely, and follow up when a copy of the revised bill is available.

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Dangerous Legal Climate for Bloggers in Malaysia

To follow up on Dan Gillmor's post earlier today, disturbing reports (here, here, and here) are emerging about the legal climate for bloggers in Malaysia. Yesterday, police detained Raja Petra Kamarudin, a prominent political commentator and blogger. They interrogated him for eight hours about articles he has posted recently and about user comments to his postings. Kamarudin is the editor of one of Malaysia's most popular political websites, Malaysia Today, which draws approximately 340,000 visitors a day, according to Chow Kum Hor of the Straits Times. The police summoned Kamarudin to Dang Wangi district police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, following a complaint by the ruling United Malays National Organization on Monday, claiming that Kamarudin had insulted the king and Islam on his website.

Upon his release from detention, Kamarudin wrote to his readers, emphasizing the government's interest in user comments and warning that "what you post in the comments section may get me sent to jail under the Sedition Act." According to Reporters Without Borders (RWB), Kamarudin faces a possible three-year prison sentence. Charles Ramendran of the Sun reports that Kamarudin's wife said that this is the second time her husband has been brought in for questioning over a posting on his website. The police questioned him last year over a posting about the sale of state titles, but did not formally charge him.

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Embedded Video and Copyright Infringement

Citizen journalists commonly embed video clips to illustrate a story or other posting. Sometimes, the posting itself (and its dissemination on YouTube) is the story. Have you ever wondered whether embedding that video clip might lead to copyright woes? If so, apparently you're not alone. There's been a good deal of discussion relating to this issue on various blogs and websites recently. The discussion took a humorous turn this week when a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge inserted a link in an opinion directing readers to a YouTube video about George Brett's famous "pine-tar incident," only to find that the link was removed from YouTube due to a notice of infringement by Major League Baseball. (For more details see Eric Goldman's blog.)

The Blog Herald recently ran a story suggesting that, indeed, bloggers could be held liable for embedding an infringing video on their sites. The story quoted an IP attorney to the effect that "[a]ny time you incorporate a copyrighted work into a site without the rightsholders' consent, you're potentially liable. . . It doesn't matter where it's hosted." The story further indicated (on the opinion of the same attorney) that it does not matter if the person doing the embedding is aware of the infringing nature of the work because innocent infringement is just as actionable as intentional infringement.

Fred von Lohmann's informative post on EFF's Deep Links makes some good points that go a along way toward lightening up this rather gloomy picture. The post points out that an embedded YouTube video is just a link. So, there is "no copy of the YouTube video being stored on your server (only the HTML code for the embed)." A post on Techdirt last week made a similar observation, noting that "[a]ll you've done is put a single line of HTML on your page."

As von Lohmann writes, this makes embedded video just like any other in-line image links found on the web, including Google Image's search functionality. This is significant because an important recent case from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Perfect 10 v. Google Inc., held that Google Image's in-line linking of copyrighted photographic images posted on third-party websites did not constitute direct copyright infringement of the plaintiff's display or distribution rights because no copies of the plaintiff's photographic images were stored on Google's computers. The court wrote:

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