Blogs

Volkswagen Subpoenas YouTube for Identity of User Who Posted Nazi-Themed Video

In late August, Volkswagen obtained a subpoena from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (Case No.3:07-MC-80213) requiring YouTube to disclose the identity of an anonymous YouTube user who posted a Nazi-themed parody of a Volkswagen commercial. The video has apparently been removed from YouTube and is no longer available.

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Creationist-Atheist Brouhaha Over DMCA Takedown Notices

Ars Technica reports that Creation Science Evangelism (CSE), a creationist group founded by Kent Hovind (who is currently in prison for violations of federal tax law), recently sent a raft of questionable DMCA takedown notices to YouTube complaining that various user-posted videos infringed its copyrights in videos of its seminars.

Among those users whose videos were taken down was the Rational Response Squad (RRS), a group of atheists dedicated to "fighting to free humanity from the mind disorder known as theism." Apparently, the videos flagged for removal were all critical of CSE, and some consisted of expression entirely original to the YouTube poster. Other videos used portions of CSE's own videos to make critical commentary about the organization. When its videos were removed, RRS unleashed a firestorm of criticism, threatening to sue CSE for abusing the DMCA's notice-and-takedown provisions and even contacting the prosecuting attorney in Hovind's tax case to inform her of CSE's conduct. Others have joined in the mix (here, here, and here). It appears that YouTube canceled RRS's entire account for a time (the rationale for doing so is not clear), but later reinstated it.

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Ethics and Copyright Liability for Reprinting Content

Reprinting content from other information sources is one of the trickiest areas of communications law -- especially for bloggers and other publishers on the Internet, where the legal framework has yet to be established. InfoMean blog has a useful set of pointers to help publishers avoid infringement lawsuits when reprinting information.

(Matt C. Sanchez is a second-year law student at Harvard Law School and the CMLP's Legal Threats Editor.)

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CMLP Seeking Interns

The CMLP is looking to hire law students (and lawyers) to work as paid interns for the 2007-08 academic year. Interns will perform legal research and draft sections of the CMLP’s legal guide and will analyze recent lawsuits and other legal threats involving online speech for our legal threats database. Interns will be required to work onsite at our offices at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts one day per week, but otherwise will be permitted to work remotely.

If you are interested in working on cutting edge legal issues relating to the intersection of law and journalism on the Internet, please apply. You can find more information on the position and where to apply here. (For information about other opportunities at the Berkman Center, come to their Open House on September 24th.)

On a related note, if you are a college student -- and a blogger -- you should consider applying for the Daniel Kovach Scholarship Foundation's college blogger scholarship. Applications for the scholarship, which pays $10,000, are due October 6, 2007. Details can be found at the Foundation's website.

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Pennsylvania Considering Strengthening Open Records Law

The Pennsylvania House and Senate are considering new legislation designed to strengthen the state's Open Records Law. This is welcome news, as Pennsylvania's current law is one of the most antiquated -- and public-unfriendly -- laws in the country. (It's an indication of Pennsylvania's disregard for public access that I had to link to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association's website for the current version of the law because the state's legislative website does not include laws enacted prior to 1975, and the Pennsylvania law came about in 1957.)

There are currently three Open Records reform bills pending in the Pennsylvania House and Senate: HB 443, introduced by Rep. Tim Mahoney; SB 1, introduced by Sen. Dominic Pileggi; and SB 765, introduced by Sen. Jim Ferlo.

The Evening Bulletin, which does a good job comparing the three versions, is sanguine that a reform bill will pass this session:

A major obstacle standing between proposed reform and passage is the reformers themselves. They all appear to agree on the need for more access to public records, but they don't all agree on how it should be accomplished. It is more difficult to find and acquire public records in Pennsylvania than just about anywhere else in the country.Legislators, terrorized by the threat of being cast and perceived in an election year as against reform, appear ready to vote for open records reform.

To help recalcitrant legislators do the right thing, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association and PassOpenRecords.org are sponsoring a public "PA Open Records Challenge." Let's hope they succeed in pushing through a reform bill. It's long overdue.

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Riz Khan of Al-Jazeera English Interviews Egyptian Blogger Wael Abbas

This interview of Wael Abbas sheds some light on the legal and political climate for bloggers in Egypt. While Wael has not been detained by the Egyptian security forces for his blogging, the government has put him under surveillance and harassed him and his family, both electronically and otherwise. He says that one of his biggest fears is "somebody filing a lawsuit against [him], accusing [him] of defaming Egypt or spreading false rumors -- the usual stuff that is used against journalists in Egypt."

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DMCA Truth Can Be Stranger than Science Fiction

Author Denise McCune posts a great account of the workings and failings of the DMCA's notice-and-takedown procedures.

As Cory Doctorow has also reported on BoingBoing, the VP of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America sent an error-filled takedown complaint to text-sharing site Scribd, causing removal of many non-infringing postings including reading lists suggesting great science fiction, and Cory's own novels, which he's CC-licensed for free redistribution.

The DMCA safe-harbor is most charitably described as an intricate dance for all parties involved: the copyright claimant, the ISP, and the poster. When the dancers are synchronized, its notice, takedown, and counternotice steps give each party a prescribed sequence by which to notify the others of claims and invite their responses. That's why the DMCA requires the claimant to identify the copyrighted works, specify alleged infringements with "information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material," and state good faith belief that the uses are unauthorized. When a copyright claimant misses one of those key elements, he starts stepping on toes.

The service provider isn't obliged to respond to deficient notices, but if a notice contains all the right formal elements -- even if it's factually wrong about copyright ownership or copying -- the service provider must choose between taking down the material or losing its DMCA safe-harbor and facing potential lawsuits. Posters who believe their material is non-infringing or fairly posted can counter-notify and even file their own lawsuits for misuse of copyright claims, under sec. 512(f). I share McCune's hope that the brouhaha will help the SFWA to help authors express all their copyright interests, including that of free sharing:

I hope the SFWA's lawyers are sitting down with Andrew Burt and explaining how the DMCA actually works, so that actual, legitimate violations of copyright (on Scribd and on other sites) can get dealt with swiftly and promptly and the people who have asked SFWA to be their copyright representative can get infringing uses of their material removed. I'm also glad to see that the SFWA ePiracy Committee has suspended operations until they can investigate further -- and, hopefully, come up with an effective process and procedure that benefits both fair and/or transformative use while also protecting the rights of copyright holders to have control over where and how their material is posted -- whether that control is a more traditional "nobody gets to use this, period" or a Creative Commons-style authorization of transformative work.

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Federal Election Commission Hands Daily Kos a Victory

Following up on our previous posting about blog campaign advocacy, the Federal Election Commission announced yesterday that it has rejected conservative blogger John Bambenek's complaint alleging that the liberal website Daily Kos operates as a "political committee." The Commission's news release suggests that it will not treat online media sources differently from traditional media sources, and that it will not lightly find that a blog's "major purpose" is to influence elections:

In Matter Under Review (MUR) 5928, the Commission determined that Kos Media, L.L.C., which operates the website DailyKos, did not violate the Federal Election Campaign Act. The Commission rejected allegations that the site should be regulated as a political committee because it charges a fee to place advertising on its website and it provides “a gift of free advertising and candidate media services” by posting blog entries that support candidates. The Commission determined that the website falls squarely within the media exemption and is therefore not subject to federal regulation under the Act. . . . Since 1974, media activity has been explicitly exempted from federal campaign finance regulation. In March 2006, the Commission made clear that this exemption extends to online media publications and that "costs incurred in covering or carrying a news story, commentary, or editorial by any broadcasting station . . . , Web site, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, including any Internet or electronic publication,” are not a contribution or expenditure unless the facility is owned by a political party, committee, or candidate. With respect to MUR 5928, the FEC found that Kos Media meets the definition of a media entity and that the activity described in the complaint falls within the media exemption. Thus, activity on the DailyKos website does not constitute a contribution or expenditure that would trigger political committee status. The Commission therefore found no reason to believe Kos Media, DailyKos.com, or Markos Moulitsas Zuniga violated federal campaign finance law.

This decision provides some reassurance that bloggers do not run afoul of federal election laws simply by strongly and consistently advocating a particular political viewpoint.

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A&P Sues Two College Kids Over (Hilarious) "Produce Paradise" Video

It's a musical week in the blogosphere. 

Two brothers from New Jersey, Mark and Matthew D'Avella, spent the summer working for the A&P supermarket in Califon, New Jersey. They made the best of what could have been a boring situation by creating parodic rap songs with supermarket themes under the name "Fresh Beets" (here's their myspace page).  Their songs including gems like "Always Low Prices" and (their masterpiece) "Produce Paradise," which is a nod to Coolio's 1995 "Gangsta's Paradise," which in turn drew on Stevie Wonder's venerable "Pastime Paradise."  Mark and Matthew made a video of "Produce Paradise" in the A&P store (after hours) and posted it to YouTube and their website, fakelaugh.com, along with some blog commentary.  You've got to hear and see this one to believe it:

A&P's parent company, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, Inc., filed a lawsuit against the brothers in New Jersey Superior Court seeking $1 million in damages.  The complaint, filed Friday, August 24,  includes counts for defamation, business and product disparagement, and federal trademark infringement and dilution.  It alleges that "Produce Paradise" depicts the brothers "performing their rap song in various recognizable areas of the Califon A&P, including the fresh produce department, the corner bakery, the stock room and the employee bathroom," and that "at least one defendant is wearing a hat with a recognizable A&P logo [during the video]." 

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Punishing Corporate Copyright Abusers

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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 WordPress.com, 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 WordPress.com 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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