Citizen Journalism

California Judicial Council Recommends Repeal of Law Criminalizing Juror Internet Use

In August 2011, California adopted a statute making it a crime for jurors to use social media and the Internet to do research or disseminate information about cases. Now, two years after the law went into effect, the state's Judicial Council has recommended that the statute be repealed.

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Instagram: Uncharted Territory for Courts and Journalists

As a Los Angeles Superior Court prepares to break new ground concerning defamation on Instagram, journalists look towards the popular smart phone app as an alternative platform from which they can reach new audiences.

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DMLP Announcement: Video from Cambridge Community Television Event Goes Live

In May, the DMLP, with our good friends at the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic and the MIT Center for Civic Media, helped to produce an event celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Cambridge Community Teleivsion.

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Who is a Journalist? Here We Go Again…

In the wake of the Associated Press and James Rosen incidents, the call for statutory protection for journalists and their sources has started anew. The Obama administration has called on Sen.

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"Newsgathering in Massachusetts" Guide Now Available Online!

Saltsman v. Goddard

Date: 

10/25/2012

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Alexandria Goddard aka "Prinnie" and anonymous Doe defendants

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

The Court of Common Pleas, Jefferson County, Ohio

Case Number: 

12-CV-00544

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

$0.00

Legal Counsel: 

Thomas G. Haren, Jeffrey M. Nye, Marc J. Randazza (Goddard), Scott T. Greenwood (Anonymous commenters), Francesca T. Carinci (Marian Waguespack)

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Description: 

In August 2012, two football players from Steubenville High School were arrested and charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl. Classmates circulated Twitter posts, videos, and photographs indicating that the players may have carried the girl, unconscious, from party to party and sexually assaulted her while others watched. A police investigation uncovered pictures of the girl, naked and apparently unconscious, from partygoers' phones.

Cody Saltsman, a football player who was not indicted, tweeted a picture of the girl looking unresponsive as two boys carry her by her wrists and ankles. He also tweeted comments about the girl, including the phrases "whore status," "sloppy," and "I have no sympathy for whores."

Alexandria Goddard, a blogger who writes under the pseudonym "Prinnie" at prinniefied.com, wrote a series of blog posts on the case. She posted screen shots of related Twitter posts and photos. She also suggested that a number of unindicted individuals had participated in the rape, including Cody Saltsman. In response to a comment on her blog reading "students by day ... gang rape participants by night," Goddard wrote, "Cody Saltsman [is] playing tonight. Reno, SHAME ON YOU." She also wrote that his fellow football players should "roll on their pal Cody Manson" and "[p]erhaps when scumbag is finally arrested I will post a picture of him for his mother that says ‘How do you like your scumbag son now?' ... Tell Cody not to feel too bad, he is not the lone asshole in all this."

A number of commenters on the blog also posted about Saltsman, including statements that he was there when the rape was occurring, that he was the "mastermind" behind the crime, that he had previously stated he would "ruin that bitch," and that he had sent the victim's father the picture of her being carried by her wrists and ankles with text reading "look at your whore daughter now." Other commenters made comments including: "[g]et CS and his posy [sic] off the field and problem solved"; "Cody needs to suffr some consequences too!"; and, in response to the question "[w]hat is [the Saltsman's] business because I never want to spend money there," the statement "CS father owns Fort Steuben Plumbing/Maintenance."

On October 25, 2012, Saltsman and his parents, James and Johna Saltsman, filed a complaint against Goddard, fifteen anonymous commenters identified by screen names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (including those who made the above statements), and ten additional John Doe defendants. Saltsman sued for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and sought injunctive relief, compensatory damages in excess of $25,000, and punitive damages. The complaint was amended on November 19, 2012 to add claims for false light and spoliation of evidence.

Saltsman's attorneys obtained the IP addresses for each anonymous commenter from HostGator, the Internet Service Provider (ISP) for the "prinnified" blog, which apparently turned over the IP addresses without providing notice to the commenters or to Goddard. On November 16, the plaintiffs moved for authorization to conduct discovery from each anonymous commenter's ISP in order to obtain the commenters' identities.

Goddard's counsel objected to Plaintiffs' motion for authorization to conduct discovery to obtain the identities of the anonymous defendants, asserting that the First Amendment right to speak anonymously barred such discovery.

In a supplemental memo supporting the motion for authority to conduct discovery, Saltsman disputed that the First Amendment protected the identities of the authors, urged the court to act quickly in order to prevent the ISPs from deleting relevant information, and argued that Goddard had no standing to object on behalf of the Does.

Acknowledging that there were no published Ohio decisions on point, Saltsman directed the court to the often-followed test laid out in Dendrite Int'l Inc. v. Doe No. 3. 775 A.2d 756 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2001). Under Dendrite, courts allow plaintiffs to conduct discovery on anonymous online posters' identities when plaintiffs (1) attempt to notify defendants that their identities are being sought and explain how to present a defense; (2) quote verbatim the allegedly actionable online speech; (3) allege all elements of the cause of action; (4) present evidence supporting the claim of violation; and (5) show that, on balance and in context, the plaintiff's right to identify the speaker in order to redress alleged wrongs outweighs the First Amendment right to anonymous speech. Saltsman asserted that he met all of these elements, particularly focusing on the fifth element, the balancing of rights. Because the First Amendment does not protect false assertions of fact, he argued, the defendants had no right to anonymous speech in this context.

Goddard filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the motion on November 21, and a supplemental Memorandum in Opposition on November 26. Plaintiffs' responded with a second supplemental memorandum in support of their motion on November 28.

The Court filed an order on November 29, granting the plaintiffs' motion. The court authorized the relevant ISPs to release personally identifiable information associated with the IP addresses identified in the complaint. The court required that notice of the discovery be given to the anonymous commenters and that the commenters be given fourteen days after the notice to file motions to quash.

On December 14, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio stated in a press release that they had offered to represent a number of the "John Doe" defendants. ACLU Volunteer Attorney Scott Greenwood stated, "[w]e believe the real goal of this lawsuit is to discover the identity of anonymous online commenters so that they, and future commenters will be intimidated and discouraged from voicing their opinions. This is just an updated form of a classic Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) which is typically used to silence speech that is protected under the First Amendment."

Plaintiffs reached a settlement with Goddard and the anonymous commenters and voluntarily dismissed the case with prejudice on December 27, 2012. With one exception (defendant Waguespack), the identities of the commenters were not disclosed. No money was exchanged, and Goddard did not retract any statements or agree to stop covering the case. Goddard did write on her blog that she "never had any evidence of [Cody Saltsman's] direct involvement" in the events of the night and agreed to give him space on her blog to present his side of the story.

The "prinnified" blog also ran the following statement from Cody Saltsman: "I deeply regret my actions on the night of August 11, 2012. While I wasn't at the home where the alleged assault took place, there is no doubt that I was wrong to post that picture from an earlier party and tweet those awful comments. ... At no time did my family mean to stop anyone from expressing themselves online - we only wanted to correct what we believed were misstatements that appeared on Ms. Goddard's blog. "

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Is It a Prior Restraint for Police to Delete Video of Their Conduct?

A pedicab driver was arrested in D.C. recently for pretending to record police arresting one of his passengers. He wasn’t actually filming anything – apparently he wasn’t even sure how to operate his new camera.

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Privacy v. Public Access in the Emerald City

For the past few years here in Seattle, a fascinating debate has been brewing about the balance between government transparency and citizens' privacy, particularly at the intersection of the state Public Records Act and the state Privacy Act.

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Judge Explains His Decision on Blogger to the Chicken Littles

Federal Judge Marco A. Hernandez got a lot of attention and cyberchatter late last year when he held that blogger Crystal Cox was not protected by Oregon's reporters' shield law, leading to a $2.5 million defamation verdict against her. See Obsidian Finance Group, LLC v. Cox, No. CV-11-57-H (D. Or. Nov. 30, 2011).

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Antioch University v. The Antioch Papers

Threat Type: 

Correspondence

Date: 

02/29/2008

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Brian Springer, Tim Noble, TheAntiochPapers.org, theantiochpapers@gmail.com

Type of Party: 

School

Type of Party: 

Organization

Legal Counsel: 

Robert J. Fitrakis

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Description: 

The Antioch Papers, an investigative journalism and media arts website, maintains and "open archive for primary source materials that document the institutional life of Antioch College and by extension Antioch University."  Source materials have been gathered through publicly accessible archives and through submissions by institutional whistle blowers.

On February 29, 2008, Antioch University sent a letter to The Antioch Papers demanding the removal of documents that the University alleged included attorney/client privileged communications and proprietary business and financial planning documents.

The Antioch Papers responded in a letter dated March 12, 2008, asserting a First Amendment right to publish the materials at issue.

No further actions on this dispute have been reported; the operations of Antioch College were suspended in July 2008, apparently rendering this demand moot.

 

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Righthaven's Copyright Trolling is a Bankrupt Idea

It’s been several months since we last checked up on Righthaven.  How is everybody’s favorite copyright troll doing?

Well, they might be going bankrupt:

The Las Vegas copyright-trolling firm Righthaven told a Nevada federal judge Friday [September 9, 2011] it might file for bankruptcy protection, or cease operations altogether.

To prevent that, Righthaven is asking U.S. District Judge Philip Pro to stay his decision requiring Righthaven pay $34,000 in legal fees to an online commenter it wrongly sued for infringement.

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New California Law Prohibits Jurors' Social Media Use

UPDATE: Two years after the law went into effect, California's Judicial Council recommended that the statute be repealed, saying that that the possibility of criminal sanctions actually impeded courts' inquiries into improper online activity by jurors. The criminal provisions were repealed in 2014, 2014 Cal. Laws chap. 99, although civil penalties remain.

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The FCC's Crystal Ball: Non-Profit Journalism and the Future

If you’re frightened about the future of investigative journalism like I am, then you should check out the recommendations in a recent report created for the Federal Communications Commission by a staff-level working group.

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First Circuit Hears Argument on Right to Record in Public

[NOTE: The First Circuit has issued its opinion in the Glik case -- see the CMLP's coverage here.]

This morning, I attended a hearing of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in the case of Glik v. Cunniffe, which raises important questions regarding the existence of a constitutional right to record the activity of police officers in public areas and the scope of Massachusetts' wiretapping law.  On October 1, 2007, plaintiff Simon Glik was arrested under the Massachusetts wiretap act, Mass. Gen. Laws c. 272, § 99, as well as for aiding the escape of a prisoner and disturbing the peace, after he used his cell phone to create an audiovisual recording of three police officers arresting a suspect on Boston Common.

Glik stated that he did not attempt to conceal his use of the cell phone, and thus did not make a “secret” audio recording as prohibited by the wiretap act.  He also claimed that he in no way interfered with the arrest and that he had a First Amendment right to record the activity of the police officers.  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts dismissed the aiding escape charge, and the Boston Municipal Court dismissed the remaining charges.

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