Posted April 30th, 2008 by David Ardia
Posted April 29th, 2008 by DMLP Staff
This is the eighth in a series of posts calling attention to topics we cover in the Citizen Media Legal Guide. In this post, we highlight the section on Access to Courts and Court Records, which provides an overview of federal and state laws that grant you the right to access federal and state court records and court proceedings. We also provide some practical tips for getting useful information out of your local courthouse.
If you’re hunting for information, consider a visit to the courthouse, where you can sift through resource-rich court records or attend (sometimes colorful) court proceedings.
Courts are centers for dispute resolution. They are public forums in which societal norms and values, as reflected in laws, are used to address and correct wrongs. While a number of laws govern the court system, none is so deeply-ingrained as the presumption that court proceedings should be open to the public.
If you are wondering how attending court proceedings or combing through court records might be valuable to you, here are several great reasons to consider acquiring -- and publishing -- information available from the courts: read more »
Posted April 28th, 2008 by Sam Bayard
After four months, the Saudi Arabian government has released popular Saudi blogger Fouad Ahmad Al-Farhan without charge. Authorities arrested Fouad in December after warning him about posts supporting an activist group on his blog at فؤاد أحمد الفرحان. From the time of his arrest, Interior Ministry officials were evasive about the reason for his detention, explaining only that it was not related to state security. Bloggers, journalists, and human rights groups around the world rallied around Fouad, denouncing his detention and calling for his release. Spearheading the effort, the Free Fouad site provided updates, collected press coverage, and offered "Free Fouad" badges for placement on supporters' blogs and websites. In February, protesters demonstrated against the arrest in front of the Saudi embassy in Washington, according to the Washington Post. It's great to hear that Fouad's been released, but chilling to consider the vulnerability of journalists and dissidents under the Saudi regime.
There's lots of coverage out there if you want further details: read more »
Posted April 25th, 2008 by David Ardia
Eclipse Aviation, a manufacturer of "affordable" jets, recently sent a subpoena to Google seeking to uncover the identities of 28 users who posted on Eclipse Aviation Critic NG, a blog that Google hosts on its Blogger service.
The subpoena, which includes a colorful list of pseudonyms such as "Turn-and-Burn," "Bill E. Goat," and "Niner Zulu," does not state why the information is necessary. AINonline, an aviation news site, gives us a bit more insight: read more »
Posted April 24th, 2008 by Sam Bayard
Bill McGeveran, a University of Minnesota law professor and friend of the CMLP, has published his article, "Four Free Speech Goals for Trademark Law" in the Media & Entertainment Law Journal, volume 18 (available at SSRN). The article makes a compelling case that, while courts in trademark cases ultimately tend to reach results that protect free speech against trademark overreaching, they do so in a muddled way that makes it hard to resolve cases quickly and cheaply and leaves speakers vulnerable to bullying through cease-and-desist letters.
We've had a copy of this article for a while, and I've been using it to get my head around how trademark law might affect the speech activities of bloggers, citizen media creators, and other online publishers. We are launching the intellectual property sections of our legal guide at the end of this month, and a number of the new sections take up the intersection between trademark law and freedom of speech. Professor McGeveran's article has been extremely useful, but also -- um -- slightly disheartening: read more »
Judge Quashes Subpoena to Blogger Kathleen Seidel, Orders Lawyer to Explain Justification for SubpoenaPosted April 23rd, 2008 by David Ardia
A federal magistrate judge in New Hampshire has quashed the subpoena issued to Kathleen Seidel. Seidel publishes the blog Neurodiversity, where she writes about autism issues. In February 2008, she wrote about a lawsuit against various vaccine manufacturers, Sykes v. Bayer, in which the plaintiffs Lisa and Seth Sykes seek to link exposure to mercury to their son's autism. (For more on her statements about the lawsuit, see my previous post: Blogger Kathleen Seidel Fights Subpoena Seeking Information About Vaccine Litigation.)On March 24, 2008, Clifford Shoemaker, an attorney for the Sykes, served Seidel with a subpoena in connection with the Sykes v. Bayer lawsuit. The subpoena demanded that Seidel appear for a deposition on April 30, 2008, and that she produce a shockingly broad collection of information, including her bank statements, tax returns, communications with religious organizations, and personal correspondence with other bloggers.
Posted April 22nd, 2008 by Tuna Chatterjee
Last Friday, Maine enacted a state shield law to protect journalists from disclosing the identity of a confidential source or source material that the journalist obtained or received during the newsgathering process. See 16 Me. Rev. Stat. §61 (click on the "webpage" link under the "Final Disposition" section). However, the law does not give journalists an absolute privilege against disclosing this type of information. A court may order disclosure of covered information if a party seeking disclosure as part of a civil or criminal case can show the following things:
Unfortunately the law left out language that appeared in an earlier version of the bill (click on the "Bill Text" link), which defined the term "journalist" to include non-traditional journalists and (potentially) other online publishers. The newly enacted law leaves out this definition "to allow the court to determine on a case-by-case basis whether a person claiming the protection from compelled disclosure is eligible for such protection." We'll have to wait for the courts to determine who is entitled to the shield law's protections.
Posted April 21st, 2008 by Sam Bayard
The Society for Professional Journalists is hosting a series of one-day "Citizen Journalism Academy" workshops in Chicago (May 17), Greensboro, North Carolina (June 7), and Los Angeles (June 28). The idea is to provide training and information for citizen media creators on topics ranging from media ethics, to standard journalistic practices, to law. From SPJ:
The Society of Professional Journalists believes the world benefits from more news coverage, not less. Through its Citizen Journalism Academy, which takes place May 17 in Chicago, SPJ seeks to help everyone wanting to practice journalism to do so accurately, ethically and fairly. The Society aims to help participants understand how responsible practices could increase their reach and help them have strong journalistic reputations within their communities and around the world.Two sessions look especially useful from our point of view: one on the basics of media law and another on access to public meetings and records. These day-long workshops cost $25. (I applaud the SPJ for not pricing its intended audience out of the market.) For more details and registration information, see the event page on the SPJ website.
Posted April 18th, 2008 by Tuna Chatterjee
Here at the Citizen Media Law Project we recently finished the fourth major section of our Legal Guide on Access to Government Information. As we were researching the various freedom of information laws, we came across Pennsylvania’s recently enacted Right-To-Know Law which goes into effect on January 1, 2009, and wanted to again applaud its arrival (we initially noted the Governor's signing of the law back in February).
The Better Government Association watchdog group ranks Pennsylvania’s current open records law near the bottom (48th of the 50 states) for quality of public access. The law itself dates back to 1957 and seemed fairly ensconced until a recent spate of highly publicized government scandals triggered its reassessment. The notorious attempt by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority’s to cover up the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spent on resort trips for board members and staff over a five year period, and the Democratic caucus’ infamous secret payment of legislative bonuses totaling 1.9 million dollars to staff members were among the more egregious news stories and resulted in public outcry demanding greater government transparency. read more »
Posted April 17th, 2008 by Sam Bayard
Just last week, I was ruminating on the viability of state claims of copyright in government records. At the time, I was pretty confident that a state wouldn't be crazy enough to claim copyright in its own statutes, both because caselaw suggests this would be legally invalid and because it would be shoddy public policy. Now, the Legislative Counsel Committee of the State of Oregon has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Justia, a free online resource for judicial decisions and statutes, claiming that Justia's posting of the Oregon Revised Statutes violates its copyright. The Committee's claim is not as outlandish as it initially sounds, but it is still quite problematic.
The Committee is not claiming copyright in the text of the law itself. Smart thinking -- Tim Armstrong at Info/Law does a better job than I could marshalling the cases suggesting that any copyright claim to the text would be doomed. (The most exciting of these cases is Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress Int'l, 293 F.3d 791 (5th Cir. 2002) (en banc), if only because it's from this century.) Instead, the Committee claims copyright in read more »
Posted April 16th, 2008 by David Ardia
The New York Times just ran a fascinating article on The Smoking Gun, a website dedicated to providing "documents--cool, confidential, quirky--that can't be found elsewhere on the Web." The three-person investigative shop in mid-town Manhattan consistently finds -- and publishes -- court documents, government records, and other esoterica that it finds through Freedom of Information requests, court files, and good old-fashioned investigative journalism. As we explain in our legal guide, you don't need the resources of a big media organization to use these information gathering tools effectively.
According to the Times:
Posted April 15th, 2008 by David Ardia
Wikileaks, which purports to provide an "uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis," is back in the news as it faces a new legal threat from the Church of Scientology. On March 26, Wikileaks published what it describes as a full unedited version of the Church of Scientology's Operating Thetan documents. It says that while some portions of the "bibles" of Scientology have been previously leaked, this is the first time the entire 612-page document had been made public.
On March 28, 2008, a lawyer for the Religious Technology Center (RTC), the entity that holds the copyright in the Church's writings and religious materials, sent an email to Wikileaks alleging copyright infringement. The email complained that an unknown Wikileaks user had posted certain "Advanced Technology" works belonging to the Church on the Wikileaks site. It demanded that Wikileaks remove the allegedly infringing material and requested that the website "preserve any and all documents pertaining to this matter and this customer, including . . . logs, data entry sheets, applications . . ., registrations, forms, billing statements or invoices, computer print-outs, disks, hard drives, etc." read more »
Posted April 14th, 2008 by Sam Bayard
The trial in Rowling v. RDR Books starts today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The New York Times reports that Rowling herself will take the witness stand. At issue, of course, is whether Steven Vander Ark's print version of the Harry Potter Lexicon website infringes Rowling's copyrights in her enormously popular books. Rowling contends that Mr. Vander Ark's book merely repackages her fictional content, while RDR Books, Mr. Vander Ark's publisher, maintains that his work "provides a significant amount of original analysis and commentary concerning everything from insights into the personality of key characters, relationships among them, the meaning of various historical and literary allusions, as well as internal inconsistencies and mistakes in the novels." read more »
Posted April 11th, 2008 by DMLP Staff
We've been following the subpoena issued to Kathleen Seidel in the Citizen Media Law Project's Legal Threats Database, but thought it was time to throw our support behind Seidel and post about this egregious attempt to chill online speech.
Seidel publishes the blog Neurodiversity, where she writes about autism issues. In February 2008, she wrote about a lawsuit against various vaccine manufacturers, Sykes v. Bayer, in which the plaintiffs, Lisa and Seth Sykes, seek to link exposure to mercury to their son's autism.
Seidel's post mainly focused on developments in the lawsuit, but some of her language was critical of the Sykes and their case. For example, she indicated that the Sykes have "aggressively promoted the overwhelmingly discredited scientific hypothesis that autism is a consequence of mercury poisoning" and called their lawsuit "a hydra-headed quest for revenge, for compensation, and for judicial validation of autism causation theories roundly rejected by the greater scientific community, by numerous courts, and by a great number of individuals and families whose interests they purport to represent."
Apparently as a result of this post, the Sykes served her with a subpoena in connection with the Sykes v. Bayer lawsuit. The subpoena demands that Seidel appear for a deposition on April 30, 2008 and that she produce a breathtaking array of documents. Seidel summarizes the subpoena's demands as follows: read more »
Posted April 10th, 2008 by David Ardia
Earlier this week, Perez Hilton sued fellow gossip-blogger Jonathan Jaxson for libel, slander, invasion of privacy, harassment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Jaxson, the former publicist for the Backstreet Boys whose real name is Jonathan Wayne Lewandowski, operates a blog called JJ's Dirt that feeds the public's apparently unlimited hunger for celebrity gossip.
The complaint, which Hilton filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Jaxson slandered him by stating that Hilton had solicited sexual favors from Jaxson in exchange for help promoting Jaxson’s website. The complaint specifically refers to a February 28 article in the New York Post in which Jaxson stated that Hilton encouraged him to send sex tapes of himself. "He would tell me he would give me stories for my blog," Jaxson told the Post. "He used me."
Internet Solutions v. Marshall: Internet Defamation Case Dismissed for Lack of Personal JurisdictionPosted April 9th, 2008 by Sam Bayard
A quick update on the Internet Solutions v. Marshall case, which I've blogged about at length previously. This case is significant to us because Tabatha Marshall, the defendant, was the first user of our website to submit information about her case through our threat entry form.
Yesterday, a federal district court in Florida dismissed the lawsuit against Marshall, who is a Washington resident, holding that it lacked personal jurisdiction over her. The court held that exercising personal jurisdiction over Marshall would violate the Due Process Clause because she lacked minimum contacts with Florida. Specifically, the court determined that Marshall's website, www.tabathamarshall.com, did not justify hailing her into a Florida court because it was equally accessible to persons in all states and because Marshall's posts did "not specifically mention Florida or its residents." The court therefore distinguished the pre-Internet Supreme Court case, Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984), which held that a California court could exercise jurisdiction over two Florida reporters who had "specifically target[ed] a California audience, ma[de] large distributions in California, and publish[ed] articles about a California resident."
Marc Randazza has additional commentary.
Posted April 8th, 2008 by Sam Bayard
Posted April 8th, 2008 by Sam Bayard
Michael Geist points the way to an interesting Vancouver Sun article, reporting on the B.C. provincial government's inclusion of copyright notices in packets of documents turned over to journalists under B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act, a Canadian analog of our state FOI laws. Stanley Tromp, writing for the Sun, explains:
Soon afterward, I was perplexed to receive "notices" slipped inside packages of documents mailed to me in response to some of my FOI requests. These letters warned me that: "These records are protected by copyright under the federal Copyright Act, pursuant to which unauthorized reproduction of works is forbidden."
Posted April 4th, 2008 by Sam Bayard
By now you've heard that the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, reaffirmed the previous Roommates.com decision. There's lots of excellent coverage out there -- some notable examples include the Online Liability Blog, Info/Law, Internet Cases, and Eric Goldman's Law & Technology Blog. The new decision, written by Judge Kozinski, may have exploded forever the longstanding assumption (among Internet lawyers, at least) that website operators would always be immune under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230) for publishing and organizing content provided by their users, so long as the underlying claim didn't involve intellectual property, federal criminal law, or the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Nevertheless, we can read the case narrowly, and its impact could be inconsequential if limited to its facts. Unfortunately, aspects of the opinion make a more expansive reading possible. read more »
Posted April 3rd, 2008 by Sam Bayard
I was sure that this was an April Fool's joke. But alas, it's true. Deutsche Telekom, the parent company of T-Mobile, sent Engadget a letter a few weeks ago, requesting that the popular tech blog stop using the color magenta in the logo for its Engadget Mobile news blog. Here are the two logos side-by-side (courtesy of Engadget): read more »
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