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online speech

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.

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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]

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]

That’s the gist of an announcement this morning from the office of Maryland attorney general Doug Gansler, following on the passing into effect of the state’s groundbreaking “cyberbullying” law, which I criticized earlier this year. The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) is involved too in the Educator Escalation Channel, which will start with a pilot Maryland program. Gansler says those targeted for post takedowns will include Facebook users who are “not committing a crime… We’re not going to go after you, but we are going to take down the language off of Facebook, because there’s no redeeming societal value and it’s clearly hurting somebody.” Although the rationale is to protect Maryland juveniles from unwelcome and hurtful online communications, the initial press reports offer no indication that the Facebook users whose speech is targeted for takedown will necessarily be other Maryland juveniles.

What could possibly go wrong? I’ve got some thoughts on the question at Cato at Liberty. More: Scott Greenfield (“Facebook becomes the agent of the state. … Welcome to the start of something big.”)

Some students in Oregon apparently thought it would be funny to create Facebook and Twitter accounts posing as an assistant principal at the middle school, and “allegedly posted materials, including some which were obscene, that caused his reputation to be diminished. He brought suit against defendants and their parents, alleging claims under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and for defamation and negligent supervision.” Dismissing the lawsuit, the court cited precedent that violation of websites’ terms of use does not constitute a CFAA violation, and added as to the racketeering charge: “Congress did not intend to target the misguided attempts at retribution by juvenile middle school students against an assistant principal in enacting RICO.” [Venkat Balasubramani, Eric Goldman's Technology & Marketing Law Blog; Matot v. CH (PDF), U.S. District Court, Oregon]

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Chilling effects of the surveillance state [Glyn Moody, ComputerWorld UK]:

Groklaw is shutting down, as a direct result of the revelations that the world’s communications – including our emails – are being spied upon by the NSA and GCHQ. That’s a huge loss for the open source world: Groklaw played an immensely important part in fighting off the absurd but dangerous SCO attack on free software. Alongside that main work it has conducted countless legal analyses of various other attempts to use patents and copyright to undermine open source. And it has done it applying the open source method of collaboration, a significant achievement in itself.

But the guiding force behind Groklaw, PJ, feels she can’t go on when something so fundamental as the privacy of her communications can no longer be taken for granted. In her final post, she compares the feeling to an earlier one when her flat was broken into, and someone went through all her belongings.

More: Brian Barrett, Gizmodo. We’ve cited Groklaw a number of times in this space.

Not unrelated: “What Should, and Should Not, Be in NSA Surveillance Reform Legislation” [Electronic Frontier Foundation]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 31, 2013

  • “Bryon Farmer of the Blackfeet Tribe Jailed For Talking About Corruption In Tribal Government” [Ken at Popehat] “Popehat Signal: Vengeful AIDS Denialist Sues Critic In Texas” [same]
  • Persons with federal government contracts can’t give to federal candidates or parties. Too broad? [Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus, Cato]
  • “Together at last! ‘Some US conservatives laud Russia’s anti-gay bill.’” [@jon_rauch on Associated Press re: "propaganda" measure]
  • More on Second Circuit decision ruling scientific conclusions akin to protected opinion for defamation purposes [Digital Media Law Project, earlier]
  • San Antonio bars appointment to its city boards and commissions of anyone who has ever said anything demonstrating bias “against any person, group or organization on the basis of race” or various other protected categories [Eugene Volokh]
  • Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader wins defamation suit holding gossip site operator liable for user comments [Sporting News] Michigan: “Ionia newspaper editor files defamation suit against critics” [MLive, Popehat with a critical view, update at Popehat following dismissal]
  • “Hate speech” at issue: “Twitter releases users’ identities to French authorities after tough legal battles.” [JOLT]

July 18 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 18, 2013

  • “This is just stunning. DOJ is soliciting tips from the public in order to build a case against a single citizen.” [@radleybalko, William Jacobson, @andrewmgrossman] Apparently, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has the power to remove prosecutor Angela Corey from office, and her post-verdict description of Zimmerman as “murderer” is the sort of unprofessionalism that might advance that day [Ian Tuttle with much more about her career, earlier] Ken doesn’t hold back from telling us what he thinks of Nancy Grace [Popehat, earlier]
  • Washington Post covers USDA mandate of disaster plan for magicians’ rabbits [Lowering the Bar, David Fahrenthold/WaPo, earlier]
  • “Joel Tenenbaum’s $675,000 Music Downloading Fine Upheld” [AP]
  • “Hey look, an actual Third Amendment case” may be premature regarding this Nevada dispute, especially if we’re not sure cops = soldiery [Ilya Somin]
  • “Why The State Attorneys General’s Assault On Internet Immunity Is A Terrible Idea” [Eric Goldman, Forbes]
  • Connecticut: “Supreme Court Upholds $2.9 Million Award For Injured Bicyclist” [Courant]
  • The ABA’s annual Blawg 100 nominations are now open, in case, you know, (nudge)

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Canada’s infamous speech-smothering Section 13′s dead. And good riddance too. Among targets of legal action under Section 13 over the years have been well-known conservative commentators Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant [National Post and more, Brian Lilley, Wikipedia, earlier]

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Texas: “I’d never trust a dentist who reacts to negative online reviews by having his lawyer threaten the reviewer with criminal charges. Would you?” Complete with a vigorously worded letter, explaining why his client is not planning to take down the review, from attorney Leif Olson of the admirably named Olson Firm in Humble, Texas. [Ken at Popehat]