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Federal Case Law Archive Now Online and Free

Public.Resource.Org and Creative Commons announced that they've released the first batch of case material in their free case law archive. Yesterday's release encompases over 1.8 million volumes of federal case law, including all Courts of Appeals decisions from 1950 to the present and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754.

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Highlights from the Legal Guide: Getting Your Words and Other Content Out to the World

This is the second in a series of posts calling attention to some of the topics covered in the recently launched Citizen Media Law Project Legal Guide. The first topic we took up was choosing a business form for your online publishing activities. In this post we discuss the various issues, both legal and practical, that arise when you select a platform for your online speech.

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Judge Reduces Verdict in Snyder v. Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church Still on the Hook for $5 Million

Earlier this week, a federal District Court judge in Maryland more than halved a $10.9 million jury verdict against the Westboro Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Christian church in Kansas, and three of its leading members. Among other things, the church publishes a website at "www.godhatesfags.com" and advocates the view that God kills U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality. Westboro Baptist has gained notoriety in recent years for staging protests at the funerals of U.S.

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Krinsky v. Doe 6: New Decision from California Provides Strong Protection for Anonymous Speech

A California appellate court issued a new anonymity decision yesterday in Krinsky v. Doe 6, H030767 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 6, 2008). (For background on the facts of the case, see the CMLP database entry, Krinsky v.

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Bush Refuses to Fund New FOIA Ombudsman, Takes the Heart Out of Open Government Reform Law

Well, that was quick. Mere weeks after signing the "OPEN Government Act of 2007" on December 31, 2007, which significantly reformed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), President Bush is now attempting to cut out the heart of the OPEN Government Act by refusing to fund the newly created FOIA ombudsman's office.

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Highlights from the Legal Guide: Choosing a Business Form

This is the first in a series of posts calling attention to some of the topics covered in the recently launched Citizen Media Law Project Legal Guide. The first topic we'll take up is choosing a business form for online publishing activities. There is increasing awareness that, especially if you publish content in collaboration with others, it may not be smart to simply leave the relationship "natural" or informal.

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Citizen Media Law Project Launches Legal Guide

Today we are launching the first sections of the Citizen Media Law Project's Legal Guide. The guide is intended for use by citizen media creators with or without formal legal training, as well as others with an interest in these issues, and addresses the legal issues that you may encounter as you gather information and publish your work online.

The legal guide, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, covers the 15 most populous U.S. states and the District of Columbia and will focus on the wide range of legal issues online publishers are likely to face, including risks associated with publication, such as defamation and privacy torts; intellectual property; access to government information; newsgathering; and general legal issues involved in setting up a business.

For today's launch we are starting where we think you would likely start, with sections on

  • Forming a Business and Getting Online, which covers the practical issues to consider in deciding how to carry on your online publishing activities, including forming a for-profit and nonprofit business entity, choosing an online platform, and dealing with critical legal issues relating to the mechanics of online publishing.

  • Dealing with Online Legal Risks, which covers managing your site and reducing your legal risks, finding insurance, finding legal help, and responding to the different kinds of legal threats you may face as a result of your online publishing activities.

You can search the legal guide, browse by state, or simply navigate through it like a book. Because of its enormous scope, we can't create this legal guide alone. We need your help to keep the information accurate and up to date. If you see something we've missed or gotten wrong, please let us know by using our contact form.

Throughout the spring, we will roll out a new section (or two) each month. If you would like to stay abreast of new material in the legal guide, please sign up for our weekly newsletter, the Citizen Media Law Brief.

The legal guide is the product of a tremendous amount of work by CMLP staff and students, especially Sam Bayard and Tuna Chatterjee. We also received some great feedback -- and timely editing -- from a team of top lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, including Richard Hindman, Jane Harper, Kai Kramer, David Pawlik, and Eric Sensenbrenner. Our website designer, Chris Wells from Redfin Solutions, worked tirelessly on getting all of the functionality operating properly.  A big public thank you to everyone who helped!

Update: You can read the press release here

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Savage v. CAIR: The Council on American-Islamic Relations Asks Court to Dismiss Michael Savage's Lawsuit

I've blogged before about the Savage v. CAIR lawsuit, in which the conservative talk show host claims that CAIR violated his copyright (and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act!) by posting and commenting critically on an audio clip from one of his shows, in which Savage makes all sorts of hateful and inaccurate claims about Muslims and the Islamic faith.

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CUNY Journalism School Launches Website to Help Citizen Journalists Avoid Legal Risk

In a project headed by Associate Professor Geanne Rosenberg, CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism has launched a new website -- Top 10 Rules for Limiting Legal Risk. The project, which is carried out in collaboration with the John S. and James L.

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Slandering Sandwiches and User Submitted Content

Our very own Sam Bayard popped up today in a New York Times article about the Subway v. Quiznos lawsuit, humorously named: "Can a Sandwich be Slandered?" The article does a good job highlighting the complicated issues involved in the case (and implicated by company sponsored competitions for "homemade commercials" generally).

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Students Shown Drinking on Facebook Banned From School Activities

School officials at Eden Prairie High School outside of Minneapolis punished 13 students after discovering photographs of them drinking on Facebook.com. As punishment, the students were banned from their sports teams or other extracurricular activities.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Some parents are reportedly considering legal action because they view the school's action as too harsh. But legal experts say the area is muddy, because the mushrooming popularity of social networking sites is so new, challenges have yet to work their way up through the courts.

In the words of one student, the idea of school administrators nosing around social networking websites might be "creepy," but it is not necessarily unconstitutional. In this case, the school punished students for underage drinking, not their expression, and the athletes who were punished had signed a pledge not to drink as a condition of playing in the Minnesota State High School League. In addition, it is unlikely that the school violated the students' privacy rights by looking at pictures available to the public on the Internet.

It would be much more problematic if public schools tried to ban their students from using social networking sites altogether. Such a policy is not as unlikely as it may seem. Last spring, the University of Minnesota at Duluth announced a new policy barring all of its student athletes from participating in social networking websites such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com on the theory that the content of such websites placed the student-athletes and the school in a negative light.

If a university is banning its student-athletes from using social networking sites, a similar policy on the high school level is just around the corner.

As ridiculous as such a policy might sound, it is arguably constitutional under current case law. Several lower courts have held that students do not have a constitutional right to participate in extracurricular activities, and in 2002, the Supreme Court rejected a Fourth Amendment challenge to a public school rule requiring all students who participated in extracurricular activities to submit to random drug testing. See Pottawatomie County v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002). Based on these cases, it would be no small leap for a court to conclude that it would be constitutional for a public school to condition its students' participation in extracurricular activities on the forfeiture of their First Amendment rights.

This is not to say that such a policy should be constitutional, or that it would be a good idea. Banning students entirely from social networking sites in order to crack down on underage drinking and drug use would not prevent students from engaging in the unlawful activities and instead would simply cut them off from an essential forum for communication. And practically speaking, such a policy would be next to impossible to enforce.

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Court Awards Perez Hilton Nearly $85,000 in Attorneys Fees in Ronsen Suit

I previously blogged at length about Mario Lavandeira's victory under California's anti-SLAPP statute (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16) in the libel lawsuit brought against him by celebrity DJ and Lindsey Lohan pal Samantha Ronsen.

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Primer on Copyright Liability and Fair Use

As a lead up to the launch of the Citizen Media Law Project's Legal Guide later this month, we are putting up longer, substantive blog posts on various subjects covered in the guide. This post is the second in our series of legal primers. The first addressed the subject of immunity and liability for third-party content under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

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Mashups, DVD Ripping, and Fair Use

Chris Soghoian at CNET Blogs published an interesting post yesterday -- Did Slate violate copyright law? It talks about a hilarious mashup video that Slate posted a few days ago called Hillary's Inner Tracy Flick, which juxtaposes images from the 1999 film Election and current footage of presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

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Fernando Rodrigues Discusses Access to Public Information in Brazil

Today at the Berkman Center, Fernando Rodrigues, a journalist from Brazil who is currently a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, spoke about "Journalism and Public Information in Brazil." In 2002, Rodrigues launched "Políticos do Brasil," a website that contains approximately 25,000 records of Brazilian politicians showing electoral information

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Comparative Analysis of Copyright Fair Use in Canada, United Kingdom, and United States

Giuseppina D'Agostino, a law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, has a new paper coming out entitled "Healing Fair Dealing? A Comparative Copyright Analysis of Canadian Fair Dealing to UK Fair Dealing and US Fair Use." Here is the abstract:

As a result of the March 4, 2004 Supreme Court of Canada decision in CCH Canadian Ltd v Law Society of Upper Canada for the first time in Canadian copyright history, the court determined that Canadian law must recognize a "user right" to carry on exceptions generally and fair dealing in particular. This paper compares the Canadian fair dealing legislation and jurisprudence to that of the UK and the US. It is observed that because of CCH, the Canadian common law fair dealing factors are more flexible than those entrenched in the US. For the UK, certain criteria have emerged from the caselaw consonant to Canada's pre-CCH framework and in many ways there is now a hierarchy of factors with market considerations at the fore.
The real differences, however, ultimately lie in the policy preoccupations held by the respective courts, with Canada's top court alone concerned in championing user rights above all other rights. The paper concludes that Canadian fair dealing does not require too much healing but would benefit from some remedies outside (and complimentary to) the law and the courts. While doing nothing does not seem to be the appropriate response, legal intervention as many advocate may not be warranted either. Rather than, or at the very least together with, reforming the law, establishing fair dealing best practices is most promising. The parties directly affected in a specific industry can together develop these guidelines to ultimately aid in clearer and ongoing fairer fair dealing decision-making in the courts. It is here that US initiatives can serve as most fruitful to emulate.

It's nice to see some scholarly attention paid to the differences between the Canadian, U.K., and U.S. approaches to this important subject.

You can download the entire article from the Social Science Research Network.

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Gawker Defies Demand from Church of Scientology to Remove Creepy Tom Cruise Video

Earlier this week, a promotional/inspirational video for the Church of Scientology featuring Tom Cruise began circulating online. The video is bizarre -- against the background of what sounds like the Mission Impossible theme, Cruise extols the virtues of Scientology and urges viewers to embrace its ethics and worldview. Among many, many other things, he drops gems like "We are the authorities on getting people off drugs. We are the authorities on the mind.

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New Hampshire to Stop Issuing ID Cards to Journalists

The Associated Press is reporting that New Hampshire will no longer issue identification cards to journalists. According to a report in Seacoastonline:

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