Among its other duties, the Federal Election Commission hands out — under conditions that may involve some discretion — hall passes giving permission for political candidates to publish books without legal hassle. [Providence Journal editorial] Last fall, in a (highly recommended) Yale Law Journal piece, Stanford law professor and former appeals judge Michael McConnell proposed that the Supreme Court’s much-demonized Citizens United decision would have rested on firmer ground had the Court characterized it as a free press rather than a free speech ruling; the case arose from a complaint against the makers of a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton.
Alexander Cohen on the e-books/Amazon antitrust settlement [Atlas Society]
French researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini is not taking particularly gracefully the withdrawal of “a controversial and much-criticized study suggesting genetically modified corn caused tumors in rats” [Reuters]:
“Were FCT [Reed Elsevier's journal Food and Chemical Toxicology] to persist in its decision to retract our study, CRIIGEN would attack with lawyers, including in the United States, to require financial compensation for the huge damage to our group,” he said in a statement.
CRIIGEN is short for the group with which Seralini has worked, the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering.
“A federal appeals court has shot down a Massachusetts consumer protection case against two doctors, a medical journal and its publisher over an allegedly flawed article cited by defendants in birth-injury medical malpractice cases. That means plaintiffs’ attorneys will have to challenge the article’s validity in each case in which the defense wishes to cite it.” The First Circuit did not reach the issue of constitutional free speech, but upheld a lower court’s ruling that the plaintiff had not shown adequately that expert testimony reliance on the allegedly faulty article had resulted in the loss of the litigation in question. [Sheri Qualters, NLJ] Earlier on A.G. v. Elsevier here.
Estate shuts down Shel Silverstein biography: given the withholding of needed permissions, we may never live to read the full complicated story of the Beat/Bohemian Playboy contributor who lived to become a beloved children’s author and popular illustrator. “I heard back from a law firm whose name seemed to come straight out of a Shel Silverstein poem: Solheim, Billing, and Grimmer.” [Joseph Thomas, Slate]
A plaintiff’s lawyer is suing a medical journal and two doctors for publishing a case report that makes it harder to win some birth-injury lawsuits.
Here are the details, as reported by Sheri Qualters of the National Law Journal. Some newborns are found to be suffering from brachial plexus injury, a type of harm to a child’s shoulder, arm, or hand that in a minority of cases results in permanent disability (so-called Erb’s palsy or a number of related conditions). A large volume of birth-injury litigation goes on as a result, in part because courts have tended to accept the idea that the only medically recognized cause of those conditions in newborns is excessive or traumatic use of physical force by clinicians (“traction”). In 2008, however, the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a case report of a delivery in which an infant was found to be suffering such injury although the physician by her own account had not applied any excessive traction during the birth. If instead natural forces of labor could cause the dislocation resulting in the condition, many lawsuits might rest on shakier ground. Since then, defense lawyers have cited the report — by Henry Lerner of Harvard Medical School and Eva Salamon of the Bond Clinic in Winter Park, Fla. — in litigation.
A Boston lawyer who claims to have debunked the Lerner-Salamon case study has proceeded to sue its two authors, Elsevier — which publishes AJOG and many other medical and scientific journals — and Dr. Salamon’s clinic for publishing and refusing to retract it. The damages are said to be $3 million each to two families of infant plaintiffs whose lawsuits did not succeed allegedly because of the case report. The lawsuit invokes a Massachusetts consumer protection law which allows treble damages, and also asks for a court order forbidding the report to be entered as evidence in future litigation. A trial court dismissed the case, in part on the grounds that the plaintiffs had not shown that the article was a material cause of the families’ failure to prevail in the suits. Now the case is on appeal to the First Circuit, where defense lawyers are arguing, inter alia, that if there are weaknesses in the article the remedy for plaintiffs is to introduce evidence to that effect to counter it in trials. “As for its own role, Elsevier argued that applying a state consumer protection law to its published material would violate its free-speech right under the First Amendment.”
First Amendment? Let’s not go to extremes. If we start applying the First Amendment, how are lawyers supposed to silence publications that inconvenience them?
Our “watch what you say about lawyers” tag — which perhaps we should rename as “watch what you say about lawyers or their cases” — is here (cross-posted at Cato at Liberty; & welcome readers from Jesse Walker, Reason, Prof. Bainbridge).
After taking it on the chin in a lengthy opinion by federal district judge Denise Cote, “Apple may be more cautious about entering into other markets with the same zeal.” [Macworld] George Priest, distinguished antitrust specialist at Yale, isn’t on board with the action against Apple: “When firms come up with new pricing schemes that force other companies to adopt new schemes, that’s a good thing” [Daniel Fisher, Forbes] Nor is Geoffrey Manne, who points out that authors have expressed alarm at the prospect of seeing the e-book market thrown back into Amazon’s hands. Ira Stoll wonders whether a presumption is being created that outsider firms should denounce incumbent monopolies to the government rather than disrupt them through vigorous market entry, while Wayne Crews says that by finding a clear Sherman Act violation, the government is merely showing how useless the law is. A different view from Bill Dyer: “Apple is going to have a very tough row to hoe on appeal.”
“A federal judge in Mississippi today ruled Sony Pictures Classics had the right to use a nine-word quote from William Faulkner’s Requiem For A Nun in Woody Allen’s 2011 film.” [Deadline.com, earlier]
The “public domain” isn’t just some hedonistic collective consumption good, but a vital resource for creators; thus Disney was able to base its golden-age animation features on literary properties and tropes that it could freely transform without permission. Among the properties we could have started freely transforming and remixing in this country had Congress not unilaterally and drastically extended copyright lengths: The King and I, Ian Fleming’s Diamonds Are Forever, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, My Fair Lady, and the novel 101 Dalmatians. [Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain via BB, similar, related]
Sony Pictures has decried the suit as frivolous:
In Midnight In Paris, Gil Pender, the disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter played by Owen Wilson, says, “the past is not dead. Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.” The rightsholder[s] say the slightly paraphrased quote could “deceive the infringing film’s viewers as to a perceived affiliation, connection or association between William Faulkner and his works, on the one hand, and Sony, on the other hand.”
David Olson, a professor of law at Boston College (and no relation), disputed the notion that a license was needed just because the movie was intended to make a profit. “Commercial use isn’t presumptively unfair” he said. He said no one watches “Midnight in Paris” as a substitute for buying “Requiem for a Nun.” [Deadline.com, Washington Post]
P.S. “Is the complaint written in Faulknerese?” [@jslubinski]
Following a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Sacramento library system has agreed not to give patrons any more Nook e-readers, which cannot be used by blind persons because they lack text-to-speech capability [Disability Law] Disability-rights lawyers have taken the view that it is unacceptable for libraries to stock a mix of devices, some with text-to-speech and some not.
A Montana federal court dismisses a class action against author Greg Mortenson demanding reader refunds over alleged fabrications in his memoir Three Cups of Tea. [Volokh, earlier here, here, etc.] More: Trask.
Defendants in federal court in Montana are now seeking dismissal of a purported class action on behalf of readers disappointed by author Greg Mortenson’s exaggerations and embroiderings. As in the earlier (and successful) James Frey episode, lawyers are arguing that consumers should be awarded refunds for their purchases of the flawed memoir. [AP/Washington Post] Earlier here, etc.