Friday, September 10, 2010

Open Meeting Commission Holds First Meeting

Today was the first meeting of the new Open Meeting Law Advisory Commission, on which I sit as the designee of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Assocation. The other members are:
Sen. Joyce was not able to attend but sent his chief of staff. All the other members were there, as were the staff lawyers from the AG's open governmetn division.

Jonathan Sclarsic of the AG's office kept the official minutes of the meeting, but here is a quick overview of what happened:
  • Loretta Lillios was elected to serve as chair of the commission for the remainder of 2010.
  • Britte McBride, the director of the AG's open government division, gave a report on steps taken so far to implement the law. These include promulgation of interim regulations, publication of a new OML Guide, and presentations to a handful of groups, including the members of the legislature and their staffs. A significant portion of the work of the new office so far has been spent fielding questions from citizens and government officials about the new law, she said. 
  • McBride also presented a summary of comments the AG received during its series of public hearings on the emergency regulations.
  • The committee discussed how we saw our role. We agreed that we would study and discuss various aspects of the law and make recommendations both to the AG and to the legislature. Rep. Walsh indicated that he would work with the committee in filing legislation should we see the need.
McBride said that the AG plans to put out additional requests for comments on various aspects of the new law. The AG also anticipates issuing advisory opinions and perhaps posting an FAQ to provide guidance on key issues under the law.

Our next meeting will be Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. at the AG's offices at One Ashburton Place. One item we agreed to discuss then is whether the AG should allow public officials to participate in meetings remotely, by web conference or other means. (The AG has put out a request for comments on this question.)

Note that the AG posts all of these materials on her website at:

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Divorce Lawyer Seeks to be the RIAA of Porn

The Hollywood Reporter legal blog, THR,Esq., has an interesting post about a Chicago lawyer who appears to be singlehandedly trying to do what the RIAA did for the music industry -- file lawsuits to go after anyone who uses peer-to-peer networking to download copyrighted porn.

The lawyer has filed at least a half-dozen lawsuits within the past two weeks targeting hundreds of "John Doe" defendants, accusing them of stealing copyright movies ranging from gay erotica to the cult classic, "Debbie Does Dallas."

The lawyer, John L. Steele, has set up a website as the Media Copyright Group in Chicago. The site advertises that the company "tracks, identifies and pursues damages against people who pirate copyrighted media via P2P networks." THR, Esq. has the lawsuit he filed on behalf of Hard Drive Productions, owner of the website Amateur Allure.

What makes all this even more interesting is that Steele's law firm website utters not a word of any of it or mentions any practice relating to copyright law. Rather, the site describes both the firm and Steele as a family law attorney who also handles consumer bankruptcies.

Steele's not alone in going after porn pirates, says THR, Esq. In Texas, lawyer Evan Stone has filed lawsuits against hundreds of alleged pirates on behalf of film and video companies.

So if you are sharing porn on BitTorrent, watch out for the copyright patrol.

New Open Meeting Commission Sets First Meeting

The first meeting of Massachusetts' new Open Meeting Law Advisory Commission will be held this Friday, Sept. 10, at 10 a.m., at the Attorney General's office in Boston. The AG's office posted the meeting notice and agenda today. (I am a member of this commission as the designee of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.)

The commission was created as part of the new open meeting law that took effect July 1. Section 19(c) of the law says:
There shall be an open meeting law advisory commission. The commission shall consist of 5 members, 2 of whom shall be the chairmen of the joint committee on state administration and regulatory oversight, 1 of whom shall be the president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association or his designee, 1 of whom shall be the president of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association or his designee, and 1 of whom shall be the attorney general or his designee.
The commission shall review issues relative to the open meeting law and shall submit to the attorney general recommendations for changes to the regulations, trainings, and educational initiatives relative to the open meeting law as it deems necessary and appropriate.
The law also provides that the AG is to report to the commission annually on the enforcement of the open meeting law.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Long Wait for School Committee Minutes

Even when public bodies meet behind closed doors, they are required by law to keep minutes. Once the reason for meeting in private no longer exists, the minutes are to be made public.

According to Stacie Galang, a reporter for The Salem News, the Peabody School Committee had "picked up the habit of conducting closed-door meetings without ever releasing those minutes publicly." (I fear this habit is contagious.) So last April, she called and asked for all the executive-session minutes for the last year. She was told they would be released soon.

Writing at the New England First Amendment Center blog, she relates what happened next. She waited. And she waited. After nearly three months of waiting, the newspaper got its lawyer, Rob Bertsche, to file a complaint with the AG.

Another week would pass before the School Committee would give Galang its minutes. When it finally did, they covered only 10 of the 31 meetings for the time period.