11.07.07 - Citizen Media Law Project Launches Legal Threats Database

Citizen Media Law Project Launches Legal Threats Database

Interactive Archive of Legal Threats Against Internet Users
Encourages User Input and Commentary

News Release: November 7, 2007

Cambridge, MA - The Citizen Media Law Project (CMLP) today unveiled its new Legal Threats Database (http://www.citmedialaw.org/database), a catalog of the growing number of lawsuits, cease and desist letters, and other legal challenges faced by those engaging in online speech. This publicly accessible database -- already containing hundreds of entries -- will provide lawyers, citizen journalists, and mainstream media alike with a valuable resource for assessing the validity and possible outcomes of legal threats to online speech, based on actual cases and legal actions.

"As individuals engage in speech online, whether by writing blogs, posting photos and videos, or republishing the work of others, they are finding themselves in legal disputes with individuals, corporations, and governments," said David Ardia, director and co-founder of the CMLP, an initiative to provide practical knowledge and tools for citizen media and to study the impact of law on online journalism. "Unlike established media organizations that have the resources to pursue important reporting in the face of legal challenges, non-traditional journalists are particularly vulnerable to legal threats and coercion."

"Without legal assistance, it is easy to imagine how one threatening letter could close an important avenue of reporting or one lawsuit could shut down a promising new journalism site, and, in fact, we've already seen too many attempts to stifle legitimate speech," Ardia explained. "The new legal threats database will help individuals and organizations understand how to defend their rights online."

The database, the first such interactive compendium, contains legal threats from 35 states and 9 countries, and is growing daily. These threats range from copyright infringement lawsuits filed against bloggers to cease and desist letters claiming defamation sent to MySpace users. Visitors to the CMLP's website 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.

The database, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, represents the start of several endeavors the Citizen Media Law Project will launch in the next few months. Beginning in early 2008, the CMLP will roll out a set of state-based legal guides for citizen and non-traditional journalists covering the 15 most populous states and the District of Columbia. The guides are focused on the wide range of legal issues relevant to online journalists, including defamation, newsgathering, access to government information, intellectual property, and corporate/nonprofit formation and governance.

About the Citizen Media Law Project
The Citizen Media Law Project, which is jointly affiliated with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and the Center for Citizen Media, has five primary objectives: legal education and training; collection and analysis of legal threats; litigation referral, consultation, and representation; community building; and advocacy on behalf of citizen media. It was the recipient of a 2007 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation News Challenge grant. For more information, visit http://www.citmedialaw.org.

About the Berkman Center for Internet & Society
The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School is proud to celebrate its tenth year as a research program founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development. Founded in 1997, through a generous gift from Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman, the Center is now home to an ever-growing community of faculty, fellows, staff, and affiliates working on projects that span the broad range of intersections between cyberspace, technology, and society. More information can be found at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of the U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950 the foundation has granted more than $300 million to advance journalism quality and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation supports ideas and projects that create transformational change. For more information, visit http://www.knightfdn.org.