Blogs

Live Blogging in the Courtroom, Is It Journalism?

One of the recurring themes I've discovered in my reading assignments for law school is that judges are, by and large, not technologically savvy.  Far from it, in fact.  Thus, it was of great interest to me to find an ABA Journal article about U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett, who recently allowed a journalist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette to blog live during the a tax fraud trial in his Sioux City, Iowa, court.

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More Online Journalists Jailed Than Any Other Media Group

Online speakers are attracting more attention than ever from governments across the world, for good or for ill. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), more online journalists are currently imprisoned for their speech than journalists in print, broadcast, or other media.  The CPJ identified 125 journalists currently serving prison sentences, 45 percent of whom are bloggers, Web-based reporters, or online editors.

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CMLP Teams Up With NewsU to Launch Online Media Law Course

We're pleased to announce that News University launched its Online Media Law course today.  The course is specifically designed for individuals and journalists engaged in online publishing, and it covers three important areas of media law -- defamation, privacy, and copyright. The course is free.

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Lilly v. Rocky Mountain Right

Threat Type: 

Correspondence

Date: 

07/01/2008

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Anthony Surace, Rocky Mountain Right

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

George Lilly, a Republican candidate for Colorado's First Congressional District, threatened legal action against Anthony Surace's blog, Rocky Mountain Right, unless Surace removed a post where Surace endorsed Lilly's primary opponent and criticized Lilly for being a possible detriment to the Republican ticket in Colorado.

In the offending post, Surace wrote that Lilly was "no Republican" and that Lilly's supporters "made clear they would not support [presumptive Republican presidential nominee] John McCain or [Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate] Bob Schaffer" in the coming elections.  Surace added that Lilly's presence on the ticket "could be disruptive enough to harm other Republican candidates running statewide."

Lilly emailed Surace to demand the post be removed and an apology issued, writing that Surace "libeled" him. In particular, Lilly argued against Surace's assertion that Lilly did not support Schaffer. Lilly added that he had sent copies of the email to his supporters. Ironically, Surace had deleted the post a few hours before receiving Lilly's email for reasons unrelated to Lilly's complaints.

Surace posted Lilly's email on the blog and wrote that he would "take George Lilly at his word that he supports Bob Schaffer and donated to his campaign," and that he apologized "for any confusion over the issue."  But Surace also criticized Lilly for threatening a frivolous lawsuit and noted several factual bases, including a video posted to YouTube by Lilly's campaign, that allegedly supported Surace's assertions. Surace also expressed concern that by sending copies of the email, which apparently contained his home address, to Lilly's supporters, Lilly was making a "veiled threat."

Later the same day, Surace reissued the offending post with new criticism of Lilly, writing that Lilly didn't have a legal basis for his threat and that he "should be ashamed of himself for thinking he could intimidate a political blogger with threats of legal action."

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Google News

Candidate for U.S. Congress Threatens Legal Action Against Blogger

George Lilly, the Republican candidate for Colorado's First Congressional District, says on his website that he considers defense of the U.S. Constitution a "sacred oath."  But after he threatened a libel lawsuit against the Rocky Mountain Right ("RMR") blog, one wonders about his views on the First Amendment.

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Bronx D.A. Withdraws Subpoena Seeking Identity of Anonymous Room Eight Posters

Earlier this month, the District Attorney for Bronx County, New York, withdrew a subpoena seeking the identities of anonymous posters on political blog Room Eight. The posters had criticized local politicians and Bronx Republican Party officials in blog posts and comments. District Attorney Robert T.

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Iran Moves One Step Closer to Ratifying Death Penalty for Blogging

Online free speech has never been well received by the Iranian government, but now Tehran is just one step away from making blogging on certain topics into a capital crime. 

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Global Voices Summit 2008

Last week, Global Voices held a summit in Budapest, Hungary for its members and the wider community of bloggers, activists, technologists, journalists and others from around the world. Called the

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WIA Releases Report on Arrests of Bloggers, Does It Overcount?

According to a new report by the World Information Access (“WIA”) Project, 64 independent bloggers have been arrested since 2003, suggesting governments around the world are growing more aware of blogs and more likely to act to silence bloggers.

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Saudi Blogger Fouad Ahmad Al-Farhan Released

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.

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Heading to L.A. for Media Re:public Forum

I'll be quiet for a few days because I'm off to Los Angeles for a forum organized by Media Re:public, a Berkman Center project that examines the current and potential impact of participatory news media.

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International Olympic Committee Thinks Blogging Is Not About Journalism

Ars Technica reports that the International Olympic Committee has lifted its ban on blogging. Athletes competing in Beijing 2008 will be allowed to blog about the Olympics, so long as they follow some, well, restrictive guidelines.

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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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Saudi Blogger Detained

The mainstream press (here, here) reports that the Saudi Arabian authorities have detained Fouad Ahmad Al-Farhan, a popular Saudi blogger whose blog has been a platform for criticism of government corruption and advocacy for political reform.

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Best Buy Apologizes for Cease-and-Desist Blooper

Yesterday, Best Buy sent a cease-and-desist letter to Scott Beale of Laughing Squid for reporting on an "Improv Everywhere" prank and their sales of T-shirts mocking the Best Buy logo. Best Buy claimed the post infringed its trademarks and copyrights by "promoting" sales of a T-shirt that mocked the Best Buy logo.

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Democrats Accepting Applications from Bloggers to Cover 2008 Convention

CyberJournalist.net is reporting that the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) is  accepting applications from bloggers interested in being part of the credentialed blogger pool at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado:

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Doninger v. Niehoff

Threat Type: 

Disciplinary Action

Date: 

07/16/2007

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

Karissa Niehoff; Paula Schwartz

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Avery Doninger; Lauren Doninger, on behalf of minor Avery Doninger

Type of Party: 

Individual
School

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal
State

Court Name: 

Connecticut Superior Court, New Britain; U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut; U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

Case Number: 

3:07CV1129(MRK); 07-3885-cv (2nd Circuit)

Legal Counsel: 

Jon L. Schoenhorn

Publication Medium: 

Blog

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Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

Administrators barred a Connecticut high school student from running in a student election after the student critized admininstrators online for their handling of a student festival. In the spring of 2007, Jamfest, a yearly music festival at a Connecticut high school, experienced a series of planning setbacks that threatened to postpone or cancel the event. When Avery Doninger – a junior and incumbent class secretary – was unable to meet with the school's principal, Karissa Niehoff, to talk about the event she and three other students sent a mass e-mail asking members of the community to speak to administrators about putting the event back on schedule. Doninger and Niehoff later had a discussion in the hallway, during which she says Niehoff informed her that the event had been cancelled.

That night, Doninger wrote a Livejournal blog post criticizing the school officials' handling of the issue. In the post, she called the school officials “douchebags” and asked her fellow students and their parents to complain to school superintendent Schwartz in order “to piss [Schwartz] off more” than the mass e-mail had.

In response to her blog post, the school barred Doninger from running for reelection as Class Secretary for her senior year. At the class election, school officials prevented a group of students from wearing “Team Avery” t-shirts. According to school principal Niehoff, the t-shirt ban was intended to prevent electioneering by candidates and supporters who could afford such merchandise.

Avery's mother, Lauren Doninger, attempted to convince school officials to consider alternative forms of punishment. She also tried to establish whether or not the incident would appear in Avery's school record. When a resolution could not be reached on these issues, the Doningers filed suit in Connecticut state court against Niehoff and Schwartz. The defendants removed the case to the federal court in Connecticut.

The Doningers' complaint for injunctive relief alleged violations of Connecticut free speech laws, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of Avery's constitutional rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection under the Civil Rights Act (Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 1988). The complaint sought to enjoin the defendants on seven different counts. All told, the complaint would prevent defendants from installing anyone as Class Secretary until an election was held with Avery on the ballot; from maintaining negative remarks related to this incident in Avery's school record; from punishing students for wearing t-shirts bearing slogans related to the incident; from preventing Avery from addressing her class in assemblies; and from punishing or intimidating Avery, her mother, or any students who subsequently might vote for Avery in the new election.

The district court found that Avery met the initial “irreparable harm” standard required for a preliminary injunction through her showing that her speech may have been chilled because she voluntarily chose not to wear a "Team Avery" t-shirt at school, limited her e-mail and blog communications to prevent a similar incident, and restricted her Livejournal account to “private.”

However, the court denied the Doningers' motion, finding that she had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits as to her constitutional claims. In addressing the Doningers' claims, the court divided its discussion into First Amendment and Equal Protection issues.

The court determined that Avery's blog post constituted on-campus speech for First Amendment purposes, regardless of the fact that she wrote it off campus, because "the blog was related to school issues, and it was reasonably foreseeable that other LMHS students would view the blog and that school administrators would become aware of it." Slip op. at 28. The court then noted that school administrators have the right, in certain situations, to restrict on-campus speech to promote school-related goals. The court also ruled that Avery does not have a First Amendment right to run for voluntary office.

Considering these two concepts together, the court determined that the defendants may have had the right to prevent Avery from running for office as punishment for her statements in order to promote civility in school functions, thus making an injunction inappropriate. The court had more serious misgivings about the denial of the right to wear “Team Avery” t-shirts, which it related to the black armbands in the famous Tinker school speech case. However, it decided to reserve that issue until the parties have had a chance to develop the record as the case goes forward.

The court denied the injunction as to the Doningers' Equal Protection claims because Avery's blog post made her situation unique compared to the other students involved.

Update:

5/29/2008 - The U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision using similar reasoning.

11/12/2008 - The district court heard argument on the defense's motion for summary judgment.

1/15/2009 - The district court grants the defendants' motion for summary judgment in part and denies the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment.

1/23/2009 - District court trial set to begin June 4, 2009.

3/19/2009 - District court denies both the plaintiff's and the defendants' motions to reconsider the rulings on their summary judgment motions.

4/7/2009 - Defendants appeal the district court's ruling on its summary judgment motion to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

4/16/2009 - Plaintiff appeals the district court's ruling on its summary judgment motion to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

5/14/2009 - The district court grants the plaintiff's motion requesting that the district court certify as final judgment its ruling on the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Defendants file motion for stay of trial to allow time for their appeal to the Second Circuit.

4/25/2011 - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decides in favor of the principal and superintendent on the issue of qualified immunity, affirming those portions of the district court's summary judgment ruling that were in favor of the principal and superintendent and reversing the remainder.

07/21/2011 - Avery filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.

10/31/2011 - The Supreme Court denied Avery's Petition for Certiorari.

 

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CMLP Notes: 

6/17/09 -CMF updated

2/7/2011 - fixed inverted lawyer-party pairings (AAB)

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ONI Releases Bulletin on Internet Shutdown in Burma

Yesterday, the OpenNet Initiative released an excellent report on the recent Internet shutdown in Burma, entitled "Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma." Besides the eye-popping technical analysis ONI was able to carry out in a matter of weeks, the report contains a great overview of the dramatic events of late September and early October 2007, including the role that citizen journalists and

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Co-Blogging and Cease-and-Desist Letters

Mike Madison published a thoughtful and thought-provoking post the other day on his madisonian.net blog about the effect that a cease-and-desist letter can have on a collaborative blogging (or "co-blogging") relationship. Madison publishes on a number of blogs, one of which is Blog-Lebo, which covers matters of local interest in Mt.

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Bloggers Expose Torture in Egypt

The San Francisco Chronicle has an interesting article today about Egyptian bloggers posting cell phone videos to document endemic police torture in their country (thanks to 3arabawy for the tip). The most recent iteration of this phenomenon is a clip of a thirteen-year-old boy from Mansoura who died from injuries inflicted in police custody after he was arrested for stealing a few bags of tea a week earlier:

The explicit 13-minute clip is the latest of some dozen amateur videos - mostly from cell phone cameras - that have surfaced on blogs within the past year, showing systematic torture in Egyptian police stations. The videos have thrust a once rarely mentioned subject onto the front pages of Cairo newspapers.

Some activists hope the incriminating videos will spur a wave of reforms within the justice system.

"Activists that have worked to end torture have told me: 'You've done more in a few days what we were not able to do in 10 years,'" said Wael Abbas, a 32-year-old Egyptian blogger, who recently received the 2007 Knight International Journalism Award by the International Center for Journalists in Washington for posting police torture videos on his Web site.

It's encouraging to see the continued influence of bloggers on the mainstream press in Egypt, but it's been rough couple of month for journalists and activists of every stripe. If you're interested, the Christian Science Monitor has some informative reports on the recent crackdown (here and here).

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