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online speech

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on September 30, 2014

  • Coverage of Cato Constitution Day panel on First Amendment with Nadine Strossen, P.J. O’Rourke, Eric Rassbach, Ilya Shapiro [Concurring Opinions] And First-Amendment-oriented articles in the latest Cato Supreme Court Review: Judge David Sentelle on freedom of speech as liberty for all and not just for the organized press, Allen Dickerson on McCutcheon v. FEC, Ilya Shapiro on SBA List v. Driehaus, and Trevor Burrus on protest buffer zones;
  • Eric Holder “the worst Attorney General on press freedom issues in a generation, possibly since Richard Nixon’s John Mitchell” [Trevor Timm]
  • “7 Things Cracked Got Wrong About Free Speech” [Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, who has a new short book out entitled "Freedom From Speech"]
  • As ACLU recognizes, Arizona law purportedly banning revenge porn would do more than that [Masnick, Popehat, Greenfield, Sullum/Reason]
  • Critical overview of “media reform” movement led by wildly misnamed pressure group Free Press [Barbara Joanna Lucas, Capital Research Center]
  • In lawsuits against Yelp arising from bad reviews, courts have not been impressed by theory that the service extorts reviewed businesses [Paul Alan Levy; a restaurateur upset at Yelp strikes back in a different way]
  • Proposal to make scientific misconduct a crime “would seem to raise serious First Amendment problems” [Howard Wasserman]

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But then the plot thickened… [Matt Haughey, Medium via Popehat]

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“If you say anything remotely critical about the Ecuadorian government, you may face a copyright takedown,” wrote Maira Sutton at EFF in May. A Spanish firm that represents the government of Ecuador, Ares Rights, has sent out many such takedown demands, related to media accounts of surveillance, corruption, and the country’s Lago Agrio legal dispute with Chevron. More recently, following growing scrutiny of its own activities, Ares Rights has aimed takedown demands citing supposed copyright infringement against its own critics, including Adam Steinbaugh. Details: Mike Masnick, TechDirt; Ken at Popehat. It has also represented the government of Argentina.

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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 court has ruled that a Hong Kong tycoon can sue Google over its autocomplete results suggesting he has links to organized crime.” [AP/Mashable]

“…will inevitably be used to protect police and others in power, not…the weak.” [Ken White/Popehat on case of Thomas G. Smith, whose conviction, later overturned, for "disorderly conduct" and "unlawful use of a computerized communication system" was based on an obscenity-filled rant against cops on the Facebook page of the Village of Arena, Wisc. police department]

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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.

We warned that there were First Amendment problems with the overbreadth of these legal proposals, and the New York Court of Appeals sees things the same way. [People v. Marquan M.; Volokh] Two dissenters would have cut down the scope of the law significantly and deemed the remainder constitutional, but the majority invalidated it in its entirety, whether applied to minors or persons of full legal age. We’ve earlier criticized cyber-bullying enactments and proposals in Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere.

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on April 14, 2014

  • “Money spent trying to spread a political message is speech, whether you like the message or not.” [Michael Kinsley on McCutcheon v. FEC, earlier]
  • “Letter: Ken Avidor on Being Silenced By a Defamation Suit” [Romenesko]
  • “Canada’s first Twitter harassment trial has taken a strange twist.” [Christie Blatchford, National Post]
  • In union leader’s defamation suit, Philadelphia court orders anonymous commenter unmasked [CBS Philly]
  • New Jersey ruling letting parents be sued over kids’ Facebook posts will chill speech [Hans Bader/CEI, earlier]
  • More dispatches from Michael Mann-Mark Steyn litigation showdown [Steyn, Charles Cooke] Bonus: Steyn on Andrew Bolt case in Australia and on Nevada protests’ “First Amendment Area” (“The ‘First Amendment Area’ is supposed to be something called ‘the United States’.”)
  • “True-crime author Ann Rule’s suit against Seattle Weekly tossed” [KING]

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“United Nations agencies are not constrained by the First Amendment,” which means the impending change is not happy news for the cause of free speech, notes Patrick at Popehat. More: The Economist.

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]

Eighteen-year-old guys have been known to say stupid things online, especially when engaged in displays of flaming and one-upmanship. Criminal-sentence kind of stupid? “I guess what you post on Facebook matters,” says Justin Carter of San Antonio, jailed after an all-caps flourish about how he was ready to “shoot up a kindergarten.” [Dallas Observer]

P.S. A related Missouri story from last year.

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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]

The measure, introduced by Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna), would criminalize online “bullying,” defined among other things to include behavior (or speech) intended to “harass” or “humiliate” when it “is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma,” but purportedly excluding “ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict.” Unlike Maryland’s enactment of “Grace’s Law,” which I criticized last year, this one would not be limited to speech directed at minors. Another prerequisite for liability is that the online verbal aggression “involves a real or perceived power imbalance between” the parties, which can be expected to involve courts in some delicate inquiries. Eugene Volokh criticizes (“dangerous and deeply unsound”).

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on December 19, 2013

  • After Rolling Stone interview comments on race in America, Bob Dylan hit with hate speech proceeding in… France? [Popehat]
  • “The Buckyballs Guy Is Suing the Feds Over Free Speech” [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
  • “Reconsidering Citizens United as a Press Clause Case” [Michael McConnell, YLJ via Volokh] “Freedom for the Press — Protection for an Industry/Profession, or for All Users of a Technology?” [Eugene Volokh, more]
  • Liability for content posted by third parties? “Ex-cheerleader’s defamation suit puts Internet giants on edge” [CBS News]
  • Forced expression tramples freedom: Cato asks SCOTUS to review ruling against New Mexico wedding photographer [Ilya Shapiro, earlier here, etc.] Related: Mike Masnick questioning why the ACLU is on the wrong side, a topic I’ve covered here too;
  • “Three puzzling things about NYT v. Sullivan” [Len Niehoff, Communications Lawyer]
  • “Why can’t we admit we’re scared of Islamism?” [Nick Cohen, Spectator]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on November 7, 2013

  • Arizona water utility sues customer over criticism [Popehat, which also has a free-speech-themed Blawg Review tribute and the year in blasphemy law]
  • Harvey Silverglate, “The Slow Death of Free Speech at Harvard” [Minding the Campus] Cato’s Free Speech Week coverage includes video of recent Jonathan Rauch panel [Tim Lynch]
  • Arrest warrant issued after Connecticut man tells Facebook readers he plans to take toy guns into school to prove point [Volokh]
  • In Florida, it’s illegal for two or more people to join together and spend more than $500 on a state ballot issue [Ilya Shapiro; Jacob Sullum on other grassroots-activist chill effects] Brad Smith on the fight at the Supreme Court between Shaun McCutcheon and the FEC [WSJ]
  • “Florida Condo Developer Sues Residents Over Website” [IJ]
  • Lawmaker to introduce anti-SLAPP bill to curb vexatious plaintiffs in Pennsylvania, and no state needs it more [Philly Law Blog; cf. Michigan which also could use a hand]
  • Will measures to criminalize revenge porn erode Section 230, the provision that shelters online media operators from liability for user-added content? [Mark Bennett, Scott Greenfield] At European Court for Human Rights, notice-and-takedown policy not enough to insulate Estonian website from liability for racist user comments [Stanford CIS]

October 7 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 7, 2013

  • More regulation of online speech: what could go wrong? “‘Eraser’ law gives California teens the right to delete online posts” [ABA Journal, Eric Goldman, Scott Greenfield]
  • Gov. Brown signs bill to grant law licenses in California to illegal immigrants [Reuters]
  • “Court: website alleging police corruption shouldn’t have been shut down” [Ars Technica; Lafayette, Louisiana]
  • License to speak: Eugene Volokh and Cato Institute challenge licensing of DC tour guides;
  • Thanks to Keith Lee at Associates Mind for including us in list of recommended law sites;
  • St. Paul disparate-impact housing controversy: “How Mischievous Obama Administration Officials Scuttled An Important Supreme Court Case” [Trevor Burrus, see also]
  • Great circle of tax-funded life: public sector lobbying expenditures [Washington state via Tyler Cowen]