Friday, October 27, 2006

Election Day Bloggers' Legal Guide

If you are a blogger planning to cover the Nov. 7 elections, you may have questions about how election laws may restrict your reporting. Stanford University Law School's Center for Internet and Society and the Center for Citizen Media at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society are soliciting bloggers' legal questions about election-day coverage to compile into an election day legal guide. Submit your question on this page. Answers will be posted before election day.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pied Piper of Citizen Journalism

In the latest issue of Commonwealth magazine, media critic Dan Kennedy has a profile of Dan Gillmor, former technology reporter and the San Jose Mercury News and now head of the Center for Citizen Media at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. A snippet:
Gillmor sketches out a scenario whereby journalists and citizens would work together every step of the way, from pre-publication to well beyond. At the beginning, a reporter—instead of relying entirely on a Rolodex that may or may not lead him to the right sources—might post a message on his blog or on his news organization’s Web site. “Say, ‘Here’s what I’m working on,’ in a very public way,” says Gillmor. “And then, ‘Who should I talk to?’” After publication, Gillmor says, the reporter could keep revising his story as new information becomes available. Ideally, this would be done in a way that would allow readers to see precisely what was changed, deleted, and added over time.

Friday, October 20, 2006

First posting online starts libel clock ticking

A federal judge has ruled that the one-year statute of limitations for bringing libel lawsuits in Texas also applies to articles posted on the Interent, Associated Press reports. U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey ruled that the one-year clock begins ticking when the article first appears online, even if the article remains online beyond the one-year period.

Russell F. Coleman, vice president and general counsel of Belo Corp., a defendant in the case, told AP:
"The ruling is important because it allows Internet publishers - not limited to newspapers - to engage in the free exchange of ideas without being exposed to defamation claims based on articles viewable in the present but first posted to the Internet years earlier."
This is the second ruling by a federal judge applying Texas libel limits to online media. The suit was brought by Nationwide Bi-Weekly Administration Inc. against The Dallas Morning News, personal finance columnist Scott Burns and parent company Belo.

The decision is not available from Judge Godbey's opinions page. If anyone knows of a copy I can post to, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Podcast: Military chaplains and the First Amendment

Earlier this month, Congress removed a controversial provision in a military bill that would have permitted military chaplains to offer sectarian prayer at mandatory nondenominational events. But the issue remains alive, as conservative Christian groups say they will refile the bill in January.

We consider the First Amendment issues at play here on this week's legal-affairs podcast, Coast to Coast. Joining my cohost J. Craig Williams and me are three experts on the First Amendment and religious freedom:
Download or listen to the show in MP3 format or Windows Media stream.

Friday, October 13, 2006

U.K. Libel Ruling a 'Resounding Victory'

I write today at's Legal Blog Watch about yesterday's House of Lords ruling easing British libel law.

Schwarzenegger vetoes open records law

Media and open-government organizations in California are expressing disappointment after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill (AB 2927) that would have facilitated public records requests on the Internet and empowered the attorney general's office to mediate records disputes. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reports:
The law would have required the state attorney general to review an agency’s denial of a public record request and provide a written opinion on the validity of the denial within 20 days of being asked by the requester. Open government advocates had pushed for the measure as an alternative to costly litigation. ... The attorney general would also have been required to publish the opinions in an annual volume and to make them available on the Internet.
The California Newspaper Publishers Association was among the organizations that supported the bill.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

$11.3M award for Internet defamation

A Florida woman who sued over defamatory postings on an Internet bulletin board has won a jury verdict of $11.3 million, including $5 million in punitive damages, reports the Daily Business Review. The woman, Susan Scheff, sued after she and her company were accused of being "crooks," "con artists" and "frauds."

Scheff, who describes herself as an educational consultant, was hired by Carey Bock to help get Bock's two sons out of a school for troubled teens in Costa Rica. Scheff was successful, but Bock later posted the accusations on a bulletin board for parents of troubled teens.

USA Today reports that Scheff pursued the case even though she knew Bock would be unable to pay an award. Bock could not afford an attorney and did not appear at the trial. Scheff told USA Today that she wanted to make a point to those who unfairly criticize others on the Internet. "I'm sure [Bock] doesn't have $1 million, let alone $11 million, but the message is strong and clear. People are using the Internet to destroy people they don't like, and you can't do that."

Killing a journalist is like killing a judge

So says UK law professor Gary Slapper in the Law Weblog of The Times of London, commenting on the killing of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya:
"Historically, in Britain, killing a judge was a form of treason because the judiciary stands between the people and the Crown. To attack a judge is to use violence against a personification of social order. Using that sort of criterion, assassinating a journalist in the modern world is a similar type of aggravated homicide."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Podcast: Lawyers' book debunks baseball

It's that time of year, when many a lawyer's thoughts turn to baseball playoffs. But for two lawyers in particular, baseball is almost an obsession, one defined by debunking common myths and legends about America's past time. They are Howard M. Bloom and Michael Kun, authors of the book, The Baseball Uncyclopedia: A Highly Opinionated, Myth-Busting Guide to the Great American Game. They are our guests this week on the legal affairs podcast Coast to Coast. To listen to the program or download the MP3 file, follow this link.