Legal Threats Blog

Swartz v. Does: Tennessee Couple Sues Anonymous Author(s) of Local Blog for Defamation and Invasion of Privacy

On Monday, a prominent couple from Old Hickory, Tennessee sued three anonymous defendants for defamation and invasion of privacy over statements appearing on the Stop Swartz blog and craigslist. The plaintiffs, Donald and Terry Keller Swartz, buy and sell a lot of real estate in Old Hickory, and a bit of local political maneuvering on their part seems to have earned them some enemies.

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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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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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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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Chinese Citizen Journalist Beaten to Death by City Officials

This is terrible news. CNN and TechCrunch reported Friday that city officials in central China beat a man to death for attempting to record a protest on his mobile phone.

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Grand Jury Issues Subpoena to MySpace in Megan Meier Suicide Case

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that a federal grand jury in Los Angeles has begun issuing subpoenas in the Megan Meier case, the Missouri teenager who committed suicide after a "boy" she met on MySpace abruptly turned on her and ended their relationship.

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Grand Jury Issues Subpoena to MySpace in Megan Meier Suicide Case

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that a federal grand jury in Los Angeles has begun issuing subpoenas in the Megan Meier case, the Missouri teenager who committed suicide after a "boy" she met on MySpace abruptly turned on her and ended their relationship.

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Kansas Court Issues Search Warrant to Lawrence Journal-World Seeking Identity of Anonymous User

Last month, an investigator at Kansas University delivered a search warrant to the Lawrence Journal-World, a highly regarded newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas, demanding access to their computer servers in order to get information about the identity of a user who had posted comments on the paper's website, LJWorld.com.

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British Blogger Threatened with Arrest for Inciting Racial Hatred

Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit.com reports that a British blogger was recently threatened with arrest for inciting racial hatred.

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