Access to Gov't Information

Open Government Data Presents New Journalism Opportunities and Legal Challenges

It’s been a long time since a printed newspaper delivered to your doorstep or purchased on your way to work was the only way to get your daily dose of news.

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What’s in the Box?! Piercing the Pointless Secrecy of ACTA

I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. – Tom Cruise, Top Gun

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Massachusetts High Court Applies Fair Report Privilege to Anonymous Account of Closed Meeting

As both a journalist and a techie, I'm pretty keen on the free flow of information, and thus pretty keen in turn on the importance of protecting journalists, both professional and citizen, who are in the business of facilitating that flow. So it was reassuring to see that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on the side of the angels this week in the case of Howell v. Enterprise, granting protection from libel claims to reporters who fairly and accurately report official government proceedings.

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National Freedom of Information Coalition to Create FOI Litigation Fund With Help From Knight Foundation

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports that the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) has received a $2 million, three-year grant from the John S. and James L.

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The Online Odyssey: Internet Use in the Age of HADOPI's Scylla and Holder's Charybdis

Last week was a tough one for Internet users worldwide.

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Cybernetic Cain: In the Eyes of the Internet Law, You Are Your Brother’s Keeper

CainLet’s review the two basics of modern criminal law:

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Metropolitan Transportation Authority v. Schoenfeld

Date: 

08/01/2009

Threat Type: 

Correspondence

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Chris Schoenfeld

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Publication Medium: 

Website

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Settled (total)

Description: 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the Metronorth commuter rail services to New York City's northern suburbs, contacted Chris Schoenfeld demanding licensing payments for use of its schedules on his website, www.stationstops.com, and in his StationStops iPhone application, which both feature departure times of Metronorth trains. 

The letter claimed that the MTA has an intellectual property right in its schedules and demanded an immediate $5000 royalties payment on past sales of the iPhone app, followed by 10 percent of future sales as royalties above this amount.

Schoenfeld says he has sold 3,000 copies of the program at$2.99 each.

Schoenfeld responded with an offer to pay 10 percent future royalties, in return for the MTA proving him with scehedule updates for free. The agency then responded with what news reports alternately call a cease-and-desist letter and a DMCA takedown notice.

UPDATE:

9/27/09: According to the New York Times, the MTA dropped its demand for royalties and reached a non-payment agreement with Schoenfeld and with the developer of a similar app for the Long Island Rail Road.

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Federal Courts OK Use of RECAP

We blogged last week about RECAP, a Firefox plugin that lets PACER users share federal court documents through a repository hosted by the Internet Arc

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Opening Up the Federal Court System, One Filing at a Time

Anyone who has spent even a few minutes looking for case documents in the federal courts knows what a crusty old system the federal government provides for searching and accessing filings in U.S.

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King County, WA v. Sharkansky

Date: 

01/02/2005

Threat Type: 

Denial of Access

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Stefan Sharkansky

Type of Party: 

Government

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Superior Court of the State of Washington for Shohomish County

Legal Counsel: 

C. Chip Goss

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Settled (total)

Description: 

King County, Washington officials took two years to respond to Sound Politics blogger Stefan Sharkansky's requests for information relating to the 2004 state gubernatorial election.  Sharkansky sought a list of county voters who had participated in the election, at a time when the election, which was decided by only 133 votes, faced challenges in two recounts and a trial.

In response to the delays, Sharkansky filed a lawsuit against the county and county officials.  His complaint alleged violations of the the state's Public Records Act.  Sharkansky sought immediate release of the documents and statutory penalties under the Act.

King County and Sharkansky settled the case for $225,ooo.  Sharkansky also received the requested documents.

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1-High

CMLP Notes: 

Source: RCFP

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Blogger Wins $225,000 Settlement Over Public Records Delay

In a nice cautionary tale for government agents who refuse to take public records requests seriously, Washington state political blogger Stefan Sharkansky won a $225,000 settlement last week from a county government that took two years to comply with his request for information.  The settlement ended Sharkansky's lawsuit against King County over officials' improper delay in producing documents related to the state's 2004 gubernatorial election.

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FOIA Ombudsman Moves One Step Closer to Reality

Last month, we reported that President Obama had begun making good on his promise of reinvigorating the federal Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA").  One of the first tangible steps involved Attorney General Eric Holder instructing government a

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Attorney General Holder Puts Freedom Back In FOIA

Making good on President Obama's early prioritizing of the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), Attorney General Eric Holder officially instructed government agencies to favor release of documents to the public.  CBS New

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Citizen Journalist's Guide to Open Government

J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University's School of Communication, just announced the launch of "The Citizen Journalist’s Guide to Open Government," an extensive multimedia module to help citizen media creators understan

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Obama Moves Quickly to Increase Government Transparency

Well, that was quick.  Just a day into his new administration, President Obama issued a pair of memos and an executive order all aimed at increasing government openness.  The Washington Post reports:

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WhiteHouse.gov: Glimmerings of a New Transparency

Jason Kottke notes the new robots.txt file at whitehouse.gov — down to a single “disallow” from more than 2,400 yesterday.

(Cross-posted from the Center for Citizen Media Blog.)

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News and Information as Digital Media Come of Age

After a year of study, countless meetings, and at least two conferences, a team of researchers at the Berkman Center have released a series of papers exploring the potential and challenges of the emerging networked digital media environment (note: I played a small role in this work).  If you are sitting there thinking that this is a BIG topic rife with thorny questions about the future of journalism, you're right. 

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Internet and Politics 2008

Today and tomorrow, Sam and I will be participating in the Internet & Politics 2008 conference at Harvard which is focused on examining how digital technologies reshape the practice of campaigning and the movement of political information. It's a rather exceptional group of participants (both on the dais and off), including campaign strategists from the Obama and McCain campaigns, political activists and organizers, political analysts, members of the media, and academics.

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