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bloggers and the law

Many organizations and individuals have now filed amicus briefs in the case filed by climate scientist Michael Mann against bloggers, journalists and a think tank (the Competitive Enterprise Institute) that had published or linked to hostile commentary about him. Among them is a brief filed on behalf of the Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, Individual Rights Foundation, and Goldwater Institute whose point, as Ilya Shapiro explains, is to “urge the court to stay out of the business of refereeing scientific debates.” Among filers of other briefs just entered: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 26 other organizations, online publishers and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and defendant/commentator Mark Steyn. Earlier here, etc. More: Alison Frankel, Reuters.

Unrelatedly, a Maryland judge has ruled in favor of a large group of defendant-bloggers and entered a directed verdict against Brett Kimberlin’s defamation suit; claims he has filed in federal court remain unresolved. Reporter Dave Weigel was there, and tweeted: “Kimberlin says the bloggers will face ‘endless lawsuits for the rest of their lives.’” [Legal Insurrection, Ken White, Popehat; recent background on federal-court side of case from Paul Alan Levy and more, earlier] (Updated to clarify which of the matters Levy was writing about). More: Weigel in the Daily Beast.

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“A French judge has ruled against a blogger because her scathing restaurant review was too prominent in Google search results.” Caroline Doudet “was sued by the owner of Il Giardino restaurant in the Aquitaine region of southwestern France after she wrote a blogpost entitled ‘the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino’”. [BBC]

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In the North of England, “South Tyneside Council has abandoned its hunt for notorious blogger Mr Monkey after spending more than £200,000 of taxpayers’ cash.” [Chronicle] The widely read blog had made scurrilous charges against council members and others. “The authority said it had a ‘duty’ to protect staff and councillors against” what it called “cyber-bullying and harassment.” “Councils cannot sue for libel. Any action against the ‘Mr Monkey’ blogger could only be taken by named individuals.” [BBC] More: Daily Mail, Taxpayers Alliance.

Not a good idea for anyone, really, but an especially bad idea for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [Ken at Popehat; Paul Alan Levy (reminding that "the government itself cannot be defamed")]

Down the same alley: when the mayor of Peoria seized on a misdemeanor law banning “impersonating a public official” as grounds for sending police after a clearly satirical Twitter account, he bit off more than he might be able to chew [Ars Technica, earlier]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on February 25, 2014

  • Cato Institute reissues Jonathan Rauch’s classic Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks On Free Thought after 20 years, with new introduction by George F. Will and new afterword by the author [Jason Kuznicki; Reason Foundation] The free-speech Supreme Court decision without which there would have been no gay-rights movement [Rauch guestblogging at Volokh Conspiracy]
  • Important stuff: Ken White vs. Mark Steyn on how to respond to lawsuits against speech [Popehat]
  • “Blogger: Go Ahead and Sue; I’ve Got Nothing To Lose” [Greensboro, N.C., sued by developer; Romenesko] Is it possible to defame a business by putting up a Craigslist post linking to an online docket showing lawsuits against it? [Cook County Record]
  • U.K. aims to tweak existing X-rated internet filters to block “extremist” websites [TechDirt] Europe’s hate speech laws may actually prepare the ground for sowers of hate [Jamie Kirchick, Tablet]
  • Public Citizen’s Paul Alan Levy, ACLU of Maryland assist anonymous blogger targeted by Brett Kimberlin [Consumer Law & Policy]
  • “Rhode Island Cops Vigilant In Face of Scourge of People Making Fun of State Representative Scott Guthrie” [Popehat]
  • “If you are determined to sue 1,200 people for linking to a newsworthy article, you may begin with me.” [John Scalzi]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on January 30, 2014

  • “Bloggers = Media for First Amendment Libel Law Purposes” [Obsidian Finance Corp. v. Cox; Volokh]
  • Co-workers’ taking of Lord’s name in vain is element in discrimination claim of religious harassment [Oregon; Ruder Ware]
  • “Michigan Court of Appeals Again Protects Anonymous Criticism” [Paul Alan Levy] Virginia by contrast adopts standard less protective of speech [same] Is D.C. lawyer attempting to unmask Wikipedia editor in defamation suit a “public figure?” [NLJ]
  • Judge Posner blasts class-action firm for supposed misconduct, law firm offers evidence to rebut that and proceeds to sue law firm McGuire Woods for allegedly misrepresenting facts of case at its prominent Class Action Countermeasures blog [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
  • “Lawyer says he will drop suit alleging website unfairly cast him as a ‘tree mutilator’” [ABA Journal (compares townspeople who criticized tree removal to "bullies,") Greenfield, Columbia (Mo.) Tribune]
  • “The victims are ‘too Christian’ to excite the Left, and ‘too foreign’ to excite the Right.” [Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, on Mideast persecution] “God may not have felt threatened, but his supporters did” [Nick Cohen on UK's Maajid Nawaz t-shirt controversy via @secularright, Ken at Popehat] Prison for “blasphemous” Facebook posting, in Greece, not Pakistan or Sudan [Guardian]
  • Defendants in Michael Mann’s lawsuit against critics seem to be getting standard “don’t write about getting sued” instructions from their lawyers, but that’s not easy advice to give Mark Steyn [SteynOnline, Jonathan Adler (Mann wins a round opening way to discovery]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on January 15, 2014

  • Setback for climate scientist Michael Mann in defamation suit against critics [Jonathan Adler, Mark Steyn, earlier here and here; update, Mann wins a round] Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has taken interest on defendants’ side [Steyn] “Blogger’s Incarceration Raises First Amendment Questions” [NYT on Shuler case in Alabama, on which earlier; more]
  • Religious liberty: “When thought is a crime, no other freedom can long survive.” [Doug Bandow]
  • Nigeria’s new jail-the-gays law is brutally repressive toward speech and association. Oil-rich country gets upwards of $500 million in US foreign aid a year [Reuters, AP and followup, Al-Jazeera]
  • Members of Ramapough tribe in New Jersey sue Hollywood over “Out of the Furnace” depiction [AP]
  • “California’s New Law Shows It’s Not Easy To Regulate Revenge Porn” [Eric Goldman]
  • Catching up on the Ampersand case, where the NLRB got slapped down trying to restrict newspaper owner’s First Amendment rights [Harry G. Hutchison]
  • Video interview with noted civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate [Cato]

Banking and finance roundup

by Walter Olson on November 21, 2013

  • J.P. Morgan and the Dodd-Frank system: “With Wall Street’s capable assistance, government has managed to institutionalize and monetize the perp walk.” [Michael Greve, related from Greve on the self-financing regulatory state]
  • Harvard needs to worry about being seen as endorsing its affiliated Shareholder Rights Project [Richard Painter]
  • Under regulatory pressure, J.P. Morgan “looking to pull back from lending to politically incorrect operations like pawn shops, payday lenders, check cashers” [Seeking Alpha]
  • Rare securities class action goes to trial against Household lending firm, HSBC; $2.46 billion judgment [Reuters]
  • Car dealers only thought they were winning a Dodd-Frank exemption from CFPB. Surprise! [Carter Dougherty/Bloomberg, Funnell]
  • “Memo to the Swiss: Capping CEO Pay is not an Intelligent Way of dealing with Income Inequality” [Bainbridge]
  • American Bankers Association vs. blogger who compiled online list of banks’ routing numbers [Popehat]

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Carlos Miller, whose “Photography Is Not A Crime” blog argues for the right of citizens to film police, has been charged by Boston police with — with what, exactly? [Brian Doherty; Ken at Popehat ("What a accomplishment: the Boston Police Department has discovered a way to make it a crime for citizens to contact the person it designates to talk to citizens.")]

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The curious case of political blogger (Legal Schnauzer) and multiple litigant Roger Shuler [Ken at Popehat; Brian Doherty, Reason] And: Update on Kimberlin lawsuits against critics includes new action filed against 21 conservative media figures and entities [Popehat]

A lawyer who’d been widely and scathingly criticized over his handling of a case — unfairly he thought — proceeded to sue bloggers and journalists for defamation, so many that the total of defendants reached 74. It’s over now, but a New York state judge declined to award sanctions, which may possibly say something about the difficulty of obtaining sanctions under today’s prevailing legal standards, especially in New York. [Tom Crane, San Antonio Employment Law Blog; Popehat ("Our legal system is so broken that it can take years to resolve even the most patently vexatious, harassing, and incompetently prosecuted lawsuits like this one.")]

P.S. “Loser pays would have been valuable here. Costs to each defendant would teach a memorable lesson.” [@erikmagraken]

Quoting Ken White at Popehat:

The blog Retraction Watch tracks, and probes, retractions in scientific journals. They say they do so because retractions are a “window into the scientific process,” because doing so helps create a repository of retractions and publicize them, because retractions can be the lead-in for a great story about misconduct, and because tracking retractions can help keep scientific journals honest.

Unsurprisingly, this does not make them popular among some of the scientists they cover. Last month a researcher at a well-known Texas cancer center menaced the site with a lawsuit, soon unleashing the Streisand Effect. And now, in a separate case, a pharmaceutical chemist is threatening to sue them because they reported on one journal’s “Expression of Concern” about one of his pieces, and in the terminology of scientific journals, an “Expression of Concern” is a different thing than a “Retraction,” which, he says, means that the website’s title is exposing him to defamation. Per Ken, this is not exactly the world’s most meritorious theory either.

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The academic writer and blogger, co-author with Stuart Taylor Jr. of Until Proven Innocent, has long been a thorn in the Duke administration’s side over its conduct in the lacrosse case. The university has been fighting in court to force Johnson to hand over emails and correspondence that it says it needs to defend other litigation, and some of its informational demands have been very broad indeed. Too broad? [Johnson, Durham-in-Wonderland]

Update March 6, that was fast: Duke backs down.

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With a new law, Vernon County, Wisconsin has put itself at the forefront of attempts to regulate disparaging email, online chat, blogs, Facebook posts (specifically cited by one advocate at a hearing), and Twitter. The law seems to be a product of the media hype over “cyberbullying.” [Popehat, Volokh]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on December 20, 2012

  • Did U.K. high official use pending Leveson press inquiry to browbeat newspaper? [Telegraph via Volokh]
  • Canadian blogger sued over speech by Richard Warman has a legal defense fund [Blazing Cat Fur via Instapundit, 2010 Mark Steyn]
  • “Introduction To Irony: Or, How To Take A Joke 10″ [Wendy Kaminer, WBUR]
  • Meat industry ex-employee sues blogger who led “pink slime” campaign [Popehat, Lunch Tray/Bettina Siegel]
  • 1958 ordinance still on books in Ormond Beach, Fla. prohibits distribution of publications “belittling the traditional American institutions or folkways” [Volokh]
  • “We have to concede” a rhesus monkey could not beat Mme. Taitz in court battle [Lowering the Bar]
  • Common Cause vs. First-Amendment-protected political speech, part umpteen [Hans Bader, CEI]

“Judges rejected a bid from unpaid bloggers at the Huffington Post to revive a lawsuit against AOL that contends the company should pay them a third of the $315 million it spent last year to buy the news site.” [Alexander Kaufman, The Wrap] “The problem with plaintiffs’ argument is that it has no basis,” observed the Second Circuit. [Politico, earlier here, here, etc.]

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…and the complainant seems to have connections with principals in earlier courtroom lawfare waged against blogger Aaron Walker. Ron Coleman and Ken at Popehat to the rescue!

While we’re at it: a UK/Canadian view of “How to avoid getting sued if you blog” [Dave Gamble, Skeptical Science] And is Orly Taitz preparing to sue Kevin Underhill of Lowering the Bar?

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 11, 2012

  • Political bloggers prevail in cases where Maryland, Massachusetts judges sought to enjoin them from blogging [Hans Bader, Popehat on Maryland and Massachusetts cases, Bader and Popehat updating Berkshire case] Who might have “SWATted” Aaron Walker? [Patterico] No point asking Salon’s Alex Pareene [same]
  • Supreme Court’s fractured First Amendment theories in U.S. v. Alvarez, the Stolen Valor case [Eugene Volokh] Ruling could benefit commercial speakers in cases like Nike [Richard Samp, WLF] Court got it wrong, says Richard Epstein [Hoover]
  • Controversial cartoonist sends many takedown demands to critics who reproduce her work in the course of criticizing it [Rob Beschizza, BoingBoing, Popehat]
  • Interview with Charles Brownstein, who directs the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund [Nick Farr, Abnormal Use]
  • “Even pointing people toward that blog could constitute further defamation.” [Popehat on case of Ranaan Katz (Miami Heat), more, PoL]
  • “Malaysian Arrest of Borders Clerk for Selling Allegedly Blasphemous Book” [Volokh] “Debunk a ‘Miracle’ – Go to Jail for Blasphemy In India” [Ronald Bailey]
  • Careful about pouncing on The Oatmeal, you might suffer a quicksand-like fate [Greenfield, Paul Alan Levy,Popehat]