Criminal

Missouri Town Makes Online Harassment a Crime After Megan Meier's Suicide

City officials in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri unanimously passed a measure on November 21 making online harassment a crime, punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail. The city's six-member Board of Aldermen passed the ordinance in response to 13-year-old Megan Meier's suicide.

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Update on Phoenix New Times Case

As mentioned in our previous post on the Phoenix New Times arrests, two Phoenix-area news organizations filed a motion on October 19 requesting the Arizona Superior Court to publicly release documents related to the New Times grand jury investigation, presumably including the subpoena that caused all the ruckus.

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Citizen Media Law Podcast #1: Federal Shield Bill; Co-Blogging and Legal Threats; Phoenix New Times Arrests

Welcome to the first episode of the Citizen Media Law Podcast, providing practical knowledge and tools for citizen journalists. This week, David Ardia responds to the federal shield bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, Colin Rhinesmith talks about legal threats to co-bloggers, and Sam Bayard reflects on the Phoenix New Times arrests.

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Some Thoughts on the Phoenix New Times Arrests

There's been extensive coverage (here, here, here, and here, to start) of the arrest and subsequent dismissal of charges against Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, the founders of the Phoenix New Times, a print newspaper that also publishes on its website. I'll add my voice to the chorus in order to elaborate on some of the legal issues at stake.

The facts are as follows: Starting in July 2004, the Phoenix New Times published a number of articles critical of Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio. In one article published on its website in 2004, the newspaper disclosed Arpaio's home address as part of a story raising questions about his real estate holdings. The address was available in public records on the County Recorder and State Corporation Commission websites.

Authorities in Maricopa County began a criminal investigation of the newspaper for violation of section 13-2401 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, which makes it a felony to

knowingly make available on the world wide web the personal information of a peace officer, justice, judge, commissioner, public defender or prosecutor if the dissemination of the personal information poses an imminent and serious threat to the peace officer's, justice's, judge's, commissioner's, public defender's or prosecutor's safety or the safety of that person's immediate family and the threat is reasonably apparent to the person making the information available on the world wide web to be serious and imminent.
Notice that the statute only applies to publication on the Internet, not to print publications. The New Times filed a lawsuit in federal court in Arizona seeking a declaration that section 13-2401 violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and an injunction barring Maricopa County law enforcement officials from investigating or prosecuting the newspaper for violation of the statute.

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First Criminal Online Libel Verdict in Bhutan

Kuensel Online, the electronic version of Bhutan's English-language national newspaper, reported last week that a man who posted comments on its discussion forums was convicted of criminal libel:

On July 16 the Paro district court sentenced an employee of the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) to one year in prison, with an option to pay thrimthue, in the first ever online defamation case in Bhutan. The thrimthue of Nu. 36,000, in lieu of one year imprisonment, has to be paid within 10 days.

Defendant Yeshey Lotay was ordered to pay compensatory damages of Nu. 36,000 each to a couple, both forest rangers, within one month of the judgment. Pema Dorji and Ugyen, both civil servants in Paro dzongkhag, had filed the case against Yeshey Lotay for defamation in a kuenselonline discussion forum in August, 2006.

According to Kuensel Online, the defendant "pleaded guilty" in his opening statement and admitted that he acted with malice and had no proof to substantiate his allegations of bribery, corruption, and misuse of power.

Although it doesn't appear that Kuensel Online or the defendant's ISP were implicated in the case, the article quotes the court as stating that regulatory authorities and Internet Service Providers share equal responsibility to regulate Internet related crime:

"The websites that solicits online discussion forums must also be equally responsible to protect from the vices of any internet related crimes and the principle of vicarious liability impugn that it is just not good enough to say that the webmaster or editors are not responsible of the content with a disclaimer clause," said the Paro drangpon.

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Bill Proposes to Criminalize Copyright Infringement

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that the U.S. House of Representatives is considering criminalizing copyright infringement, again:

Two months ago, the Justice Department floated draft legislation to expand the scope of, and stiffen the penalties for, criminal copyright infringement, and now a related bill has been introduced in the House. This isn't the first time that Congress has taken up the DoJ's copycrime wishlist, and, for all the reasons we listed in a blog post about a proposal offered up last year, H.R. 3155 is an awful idea.

This bill goes even further than the prior bill in that it would ratchet up statutory damages in certain instances. Under copyright law, copyright owners don't need to prove that they have been harmed in order to get damages and can instead elect to get statutory damages, which a court can set between $750 and $30,000 per work infringed. Such disproportionate penalties can be especially dangerous when it comes to lawsuits against mass-market products like the iPod or TiVo that enable the making of thousands of copies.

Among other things, the proposed legislation, entitled "Intellectual Property Enhanced Criminal Enforcement Act of 2007," would make it a crime to attempt to engage in copyright infringement, which would be punishable by imprisonment of up to 20 years.

The bill was introduced on July 24, 2007 by Rep. Steven Chabot, and is currently sitting in the House Judiciary Committee. You can track its status at Govtrack.us and at OpenCongress.org.

To find out what you can do to derail this dangerous bill, visit the EFF's Fight The Justice Department's Copycrime Proposal!

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Teen Arrested for Videotaping Police

An 18 year-old from Carlisle, Pennsylvania has been charged with a felony under Pennsylvania's wiretap statute -- for videotaping a police officer during a traffic stop.

Brian D. Kelly didn't think he was doing anything illegal when he used his videocamera to record a Carlisle police officer during a traffic stop. Making movies is one of his hobbies, he said, and the stop was just another interesting event to film. [...] Kelly, 18, of Carlisle, was arrested on a felony wiretapping charge, with a penalty of up to 7 years in state prison. [...] Kelly is charged under a state law that bars the intentional interception or recording of anyone's oral conversation without their consent.

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N.C. Publisher Charged With Trespass For Refusing To Leave Closed Meeting

Tom Boney, publisher of the Alamance News, a weekly newspaper in Graham, N.C., was arrested and charged with trespass after refusing to leave the Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport Authority's monthly meeting.  According to the Burlington Times-News, Boney refused to leave the meeting after the airport authority voted to hold a private meeting to discuss a possible economic development project at the airport. 

Under North Carolina's Meetings of Public Bodies Act, all official meetings of public bodies are presumed to be open to the public.  The law permits closure only under nine enumerated circumstances.  It is unclear whether the airport authority met any of these conditions when it closed the meeting.  Even the sheriff who arrested Boney commented that he respects him for sticking to his convictions. "He's got a valid point about having access to public meetings," the sheriff told the Burlington Times-News.

Boney, who has long campaigned for open government meetings, is scheduled to appear in court on June 25 to address the misdemeanor trespassing charge.

UPDATE: The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reported that the district attorney's office dismissed the charge on July 20, 2007, saying the incident between Boney and the authority was a "civil matter."

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