Citizen Media Law Project Launches Legal Guide

Today we are launching the first sections of the Citizen Media Law Project's Legal Guide. The guide is intended for use by citizen media creators with or without formal legal training, as well as others with an interest in these issues, and addresses the legal issues that you may encounter as you gather information and publish your work online.

The legal guide, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, covers the 15 most populous U.S. states and the District of Columbia and will focus on the wide range of legal issues online publishers are likely to face, including risks associated with publication, such as defamation and privacy torts; intellectual property; access to government information; newsgathering; and general legal issues involved in setting up a business.

For today's launch we are starting where we think you would likely start, with sections on

  • Forming a Business and Getting Online, which covers the practical issues to consider in deciding how to carry on your online publishing activities, including forming a for-profit and nonprofit business entity, choosing an online platform, and dealing with critical legal issues relating to the mechanics of online publishing.

  • Dealing with Online Legal Risks, which covers managing your site and reducing your legal risks, finding insurance, finding legal help, and responding to the different kinds of legal threats you may face as a result of your online publishing activities.

You can search the legal guide, browse by state, or simply navigate through it like a book. Because of its enormous scope, we can't create this legal guide alone. We need your help to keep the information accurate and up to date. If you see something we've missed or gotten wrong, please let us know by using our contact form.

Throughout the spring, we will roll out a new section (or two) each month. If you would like to stay abreast of new material in the legal guide, please sign up for our weekly newsletter, the Citizen Media Law Brief.

The legal guide is the product of a tremendous amount of work by CMLP staff and students, especially Sam Bayard and Tuna Chatterjee. We also received some great feedback -- and timely editing -- from a team of top lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, including Richard Hindman, Jane Harper, Kai Kramer, David Pawlik, and Eric Sensenbrenner. Our website designer, Chris Wells from Redfin Solutions, worked tirelessly on getting all of the functionality operating properly.  A big public thank you to everyone who helped!

Update: You can read the press release here

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Thank You and Farewell to Three Key Members of the CMLP Team

As 2007 drew to a close, the Citizen Media Law Project lost three valuable members of its team: Colin Rhinesmith, David Russcol, and Pat McKiernan.

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Citizen Media Law Project Launches Legal Threats Database

We've finally finished building the interface for our Legal Threats Database, and I am excited to announce its public launch. If you would like to read our news release, you can find it here.

The database, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, contains legal threats from 35 states and 9 countries, and it is growing daily. These threats range from copyright infringement lawsuits filed against bloggers to cease and desist letters claiming defamation sent to MySpace users.

Users of the interactive database can input new threat entries, comment on existing threats, and search the database in a number of ways, including by location, legal claim, publication medium, and content type. We've already been receiving a lot of interest in the database and expect that it will be useful to a wide range of people. As Sam Bayard noted yesterday, the database already contains a fascinating array of lawsuits, as well as more informal threats like cease-and-desist letters and emails.

We can't create this database alone, however, so we need your help to keep the information accurate and up to date. If you've been threatened with legal action as a result of your online activities or know of someone who has, please let us know by using our contact form or by entering the information directly into the database through our easy to use threat entry form.

The database is the product of a tremendous amount of work by CMLP staff and students, especially Sam Bayard, Jillian Button, Daniel Ostrach, David Russcol, Matt Sanchez, Daniel Ungar, and Stefani Wittenauer. Our website designer, Chris Wells from Redfin Solutions, has worked tirelessly on getting all of the functionality operating properly. A big public thank you to everyone who helped!

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Citizen Media Law Podcast #2: Legal Threats Database; Orthomom Defamation Action; Iranian Blogger Sued in Canada

This week, David Ardia previews our legal threats database, Colin Rhinesmith talks about a recent decision on First Amendment protections for anonymous bloggers, and Sam Bayard spotlights a defamation suit involving an Iranian blogger in Canada.

Download the MP3 (time: 9:30)

Music used in this podcast was sampled and remixed from a track titled "Jazz House" by the Wicked Allstars, available on Magnatune.

To subscribe to the Citizen Media Law Podcast, visit our Subscriptions page or go directly to the podcast feed.



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Weeks and Months Ahead for the CMLP

We formally launched the Citizen Media Law Project's website back in April, so it's about time that I provided an update on what we have been up to and where we are headed in the next few weeks and months.

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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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Short Hiatus

I'll be traveling for the next ten days.  Postings will be light as a result.

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Berkman Center Hiring Media Fellow

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School is seeking a Media Fellow to undertake a project to comprehensively study the new/citizen/social media landscape. The fellow will perform a critical analysis of where citizen media has fallen short, where it has delivered, and how we as a community can help it to do better. Details:

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Looking For An Assistant Project Director

Are you a lawyer interested in dealing with emerging legal issues relating to the intersection of law, journalism, and new media on the Internet?  

The Citizen Media Law Project is looking to hire an Assistant Project Director commencing in the summer or fall of 2007 to assist with the work of the CMLP.  The position requires a Juris Doctor degree with admission to at least one state bar; 1-5 years legal-practice experience with media, First Amendment, Internet, or intellectual property law; and litigation or transactional/licensing experience.  Previous experience in a clinical legal setting or the direct supervision and mentoring of young attorneys or students is advantageous. Superior writing and verbal skills, sound judgment, exceptional ethical standards, and interpersonal communication skills are essential.

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Knight Foundation Grant

I am in Miami today at the Editor & Publisher/Mediaweek Interactive Media Conference to receive a Knight Foundation News Challenge Grant on behalf of the Citizen Media Law Project.  The one-year grant will fund the development of a national database of legal threats against citizen journalists and a set of state-specific legal guides that will cover the 15 most populous states and the District of Columbia. We are excited and honored to work with the Knight Foundation on this project.

The Knight Foundation awarded a total of 24 grants, covering a broad range of initiatives from the development of a Center for Future Civic Media at MIT to supporting bloggers who will write about topics such as GPS tracking devices and out-of-the-box community publishing solutions.  It's a fascinating list of projects and people.

I may be the one basking in the Florida sun today, but this day would not have been possible without the vision and hard work of the other CMLP founders: Dan Gillmor, Phil Malone, and Matt Lovell.   

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What is on Tap For the CMLP: The Legal Guide

In this and the next few posts I'll talk in some depth about the various projects we are working on.

One of the first things we'll be doing is putting together a legal guide that will focus on the specific needs of citizen media creators and will address, among other things, business formation and governance; access to government information, records, and meetings; risks associated with publication; newsgathering; intellectual property; and how to respond to legal threats.  You can see a tentative list of the subject areas we are working on here.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, I am sure we haven't thought of everything, so I'd love to hear your suggestions and comments.

Presentation of the information in the legal guide will be critical to its usefulness so we want to make the material is accessible in as many ways as possible.  We will be starting with a hierarchical outline of subject areas that will look like a linked table of contents with the various categories and subcategories listed in outline form.  Under this approach, if someone wants to read about fair use, they would need to find it under Intellectual Property: Copyright

Obviously, this presupposes that people who come to the site will already know enough about the law to have an idea of where to look.  This isn't going to be the case all the time (or even most of the time) so we think it's essential to provide an alternative way to access the information.  For those who may not know where to look, we are building an interactive set of questions/steps that will lead them to the right part of the legal guide.  We are still working out the questions/steps in this interactive process, but the flow will look something like this: 

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Time to Launch

Don't let anyone tell you that launching a website is easy.  It isn't.  After several false starts and a lot of time spent trolling the Drupal community site (I'll talk more about Drupal in a later post), we are ready to put this out to the world, in beta form at least.  Let's just say it has been a learning experience, which I guess is apropos because that is what this site, and the Citizen Media Law Project, are about: learning.

First off, we want to learn from you.  We want to know what questions you want to have answered.  Are you interested in knowing how to respond to a threatening letter from a lawyer who claims your site contains copyrighted material?  Do you want to know how to minimize the risks of defamation?  Or perhaps how to use the Freedom of Information Act to get documents from a federal agency? 

Well, we are working on putting together a detailed legal guide that will cover these questions and more.  But I am sure we haven't thought of everything, so I'd love to hear your suggestions and comments.  You can put them in your comments to this post or use our contact form.

Hopefully the learning will flow both ways.  Over the next month or so we'll be putting up portions of our legal guide, which covers everything from how to form a business to how to deal with election laws.  We are also working on building a database of legal threats, including relevant lawsuits, subpoenas, and other legal threats directed at citizen media creators.  If you have been on the receiving end of a legal threat or know someone who has, please let us know so we can include it in the database. 

And, in case you were wondering, the database and legal guide (just like everything else we are doing), will be publicly accessible, searchable, and open for commenting.  We want to build a community of people who are interested in facilitating citizen participation in online media and in protecting the legal rights of those engaged in speech on the Internet.  The only way to do this is to make this a conversation.......which can start right now.

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