Friday, February 28, 2014
Here's the video:
Our discussion of the oral arguments in McCutcheon and its relationship to Citizens United is here.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
The intersection of First Amendment and copyright is not always well-marked and its certainly murky in the Ninth Circuit's divided opinion in Garcia v. Google, involving the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" video posted on YouTube (owned by Google, Inc.).
Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski sets the scene:
While answering a casting call for a low-budget amateur film doesn’t often lead to stardom, it also rarely turns an aspiring actress into the subject of a fatwa. But that’s exactly what happened to Cindy Lee Garcia when she agreed to act in a film with the working title “Desert Warrior.”
The film’s writer and producer, Mark Basseley Youssef—who also goes by the names Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Sam Bacile—cast Garcia in a minor role. Garcia was given the four pages of the script in which her character appeared and paid approximately $500 for three and a half days of filming. “Desert Warrior” never materialized. Instead, Garcia’s scene was used in an anti-Islamic film titled “Innocence of Muslims.” Garcia first saw “Innocence of Muslims” after it was uploaded to YouTube.com and she discovered that her brief performance had been partially dubbed over so that she appeared to be asking, “Is your Mohammed a child molester?”
These, of course, are fighting words to many faithful Muslims and, after the film aired on Egyptian television, there were protests that generated worldwide news coverage. An Egyptian cleric issued a fatwa, calling for the killing of everyone involved with the film, and Garcia soon began receiving death threats. She responded by taking a number of security precautions and asking that Google remove the video from YouTube.
The copyright issue seems to be whether an actor can copyright her performance and how issues such as fraud and work-for-hire fit into such an analysis. Yet even if Garcia prevails in her copyright claim, a First Amendment issue arises with the relief - - - a preliminary injunction. The majority gives short shrift to Google's First Amendment argument raising such an argument:
The problem with Google’s position is that it rests entirely on the assertion that Garcia’s proposed injunction is an unconstitutional prior restraint of speech. But the First Amendment doesn’t protect copyright infringement. Cf. Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 219–220 (2003). Because Garcia has demonstrated a likelihood of success on her claim that “Innocence of Muslims” infringes her copyright, Google’s argument fails. The balance of equities therefore clearly favors Garcia and, to the extent the public interest is implicated at all, it, too, tips in Garcia’s direction.
(Recall that the Court in Eldred upheld the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and found copyright generally consistent with the First Amendment).
Dissenting, Judge N.R. Smith argued that the First Amendment should be weighed heavily as the public interest militating against a preliminary injunction - - - but only because he believes there is no statutory claim for copyright infringement:
The public’s interest in a robust First Amendment cannot be questioned. See Sammartano v. First Judicial Dist. Court, 303 F.3d 959, 974 (9th Cir. 2002). Opposite this vital public interest is Garcia’s allegation of copyright infringement. Properly enforcing the Copyright Act is also an important public interest. See Small v. Avanti Health Sys., LLC, 661 F.3d 1180, 1197 (9th Cir. 2011). Indeed, if Google were actually infringing Garcia’s copyright, the First Amendment could not shelter it. See Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 219–20 (2003).
But the case at bar does not present copyright infringement per se. Instead (in an unprecedented opinion), the majority concludes that Garcia may have a copyright interest in her acting performance. Maj. op. at 10. As a result, Google’s contention, that issuing a preliminary injunction on these facts may constitute a prior restraint of speech under the First Amendment, identifies an important public interest.
As Judge Kozinski's majority opinion notes, this is "a troubling case." But while the majority is troubled by the deception of and possible harm to Garcia, others are more troubled by the First Amendment implications of ordering any material removed from YouTube. YouTube has complied, but has availed itself of the oft-suggested remedy of "more speech" as in the image below:
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Can a movie be tortious consistent with the First Amendment? That's the question raised by the complaint in DeGroat v. Cooper filed this week in federal court concerning the movie "Out of the Furnace."
The fictional movie directed by Scott Cooper (a defendant in the lawsuit) stars actor Christian Bale (pictured right) as Russell Blaze, who, when his younger brother "mysteriously disappears" and law enforcement seems inadequate and slow, takes the "law into his own hands" to find his missing brother.
The plot may seem prosaic, but importantly, the action is set in the Ramapo moutains of northern New Jersey amongst a particular group of people some of whom possess a particular surname that coincides with the plaintiffs. As a paragraph from the complaint alleges:
[in the movie] the young man becomes involved in an underground bare-knuckle fight ring leading to his murder by a violent and evil character, Harlan De Groat, who is the chief of a gang of “inbreds” living in the Ramapo Mountains in New Jersey. Harlan DeGroat, portrayed by Woody Harrelson, is the head of a criminal gang that is identified as the Jackson Whites; which gang is described as a community of “inbreds” that inhabits the Ramapo Mountains in New Jersey. Another gang member is identified as Dwight Van Dunk. The community is depicted as lawless, drug- addicted, impoverished and violent; and the members appear to be of some sort of racially mixed heritage.
As the complaint also states, the plaintiffs "are members of the Ramapough Lunaape Nation, a Native American ethnic group recognized as a tribe by the States of New Jersey and New York," and the "Ramapough Lunaape people were referred to locally as 'Jackson Whites,' a derogatory term with various origins ascribed to it, none of them complimentary." Moreover, "DeGroat and Van Dunk are well known common surnames among the Ramapough Lunaape Nation, and have been for two hundred years or so."
The claims for relief include defamation, false light, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The response by Cooper and "Relativity Media," will surely include a First Amendment defense.
Among the cases that will be important is Time, Inc, v. Hill, decided by the Supreme Court in 1967, involving Time's discussion of a play "The Desperate Hours" in which the Time magazine article stated that the play related to a tragedy suffered by Hill and his family. The Court ruled against James Hill - - - who was represented by future US President Richard Nixon - - - reversing the jury verdict in the family's favor while discussing the relationships between "fictionalization" and the First Amendment.
To the extent it is based in fact, an interesting comparison is journalist Ben McGrath's 2010 article, "Strangers on the Mountain" published in The New Yorker. McGarth's piece centered upon the Ramapo Mountains, the people who live there, including the DeGroat family and so-called "Jackson Whites" and "Rampaough Indians," and a variety of legal issues, including criminal and environmental.
Yet it would seem that "Out of the Furnace" has a strong First Amendment claim unless the film loses its fictional patina, a prospect that seems unlikely.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
The Ninth Circuit today issued its opinion in Perry v. Brown holding that the Proposition 8 trial videotapes will not be released. The panel - - - Judges Reinhardt, Hawkins, and NR Smith - - - reversed the decision of Northern District of California Chief Judge Ware that the videotapes should be released.
Judge Reinhardt's opinion for the unanimous panel made clear that the decision was not focused on the policy questions regarding broadcast of trials or the First Amendment right of press access or publication. Instead, the opinion highlighted the unique and narrow question: whether "the district court abused its discretion by ordering the unsealing of the recording of the trial notwithstanding the trial judge’s commitment to the parties that the recording would not be publicly broadcast."
The panel assumed without deciding that the "trial recording is subject to the common-law presumption of public access," but found that there was a "sufficiently compelling reason to override any such presumption here."
In short, the panel found that the sufficiently compelling reason was Judge Walker Vaughn's repeated assurances to the litigants that the trial recordings would not be published:
the district court [Judge Ware] failed to appreciate the nature of the statements that the trial judge [Judge Walker] had made to the litigants, the specific factual and legal context in which he made them, and the consequences of his having done so. The integrity of our judicial system depends in no small part on the ability of litigants and members of the public to rely on a judge’s word. The record compels the finding that the trial judge’s representations to the parties were solemn commitments. . . . the interest in preserving the sanctity of the judicial process is a compelling reason to override the presumption in favor of the recording’s release.
The Ninth Circuit opinion is not a constitutional one, but certainly seeks to respect the integrity of Article III courts. But it means that afficiandos of the Prop 8 trial will have to be content with the voluminous transcript that remains available, or with the re-enactment of the trial produced by actors, or with Walker's extensive opinion itself.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
As the NYT reports, the filmmaker Josh Fox whose documentary “Gasland” raised questions about "fracking," was escorted from a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing today and given a misdemeanor citation.
Although Fox shouted this "is a public hearing!” and “I’m being denied my First Amendment rights,” the subcommittee members had voted to exclude Fox and his camera crew for lacking proper media credentials.
A video of the hearing, sans any arrests, is available here.
For ConLawProfs teaching First Amendment this semester, this could be the basis for an interesting in-class discussion or problem.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
With Ron Paul reportedly becoming a "serious contender" in the presidential primary, there is renewed attention to his views on the Federal Reserve as "dishonest, immoral, and unconstitutional," encapsulated in his campaign slogan, "end the fed. "
An extended video, Fiat Empire, now about 6 years old, is a good introduction to the issues.
The argument supporting the unconstitutionality of the Federal Reserve can be summed up in the phrase "the poster child of unconstitutional private delegation," cited to John Hart Ely in Timothy Canova's article, Black Swans and Black Elephants in Plain Sight: An Empirical Review of Central Bank Independence, available on ssrn. Section 4 of the article is a great overview and argument regarding the Federal Reserve. (I assigned this section last semester in Constitutional Structures in conjunction with Free Enterprise Fund v. PCOAB which Canova also discusses, and showed a short clip from Fiat Empire; it was well-receoved by students.)
As Canova notes, concerns about the Federal Reserve arise both from the "populist libertarian right" and the "populist progressive left" : When "Representative Ron Paul, a Republican libertarian from Texas, introduced a bill to subject the Federal Reserve to an audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO)" it was "cosponsored on the left by such Democratic and progressive Congressmen as Dennis Kucinich from Ohio and Alan Grayson from Florida."
Canova and others, including Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, and Robert Reich have been named experts on a panel advising a United States Senator to "develop legislation to restructure the Fed and tighten rules on conflicts of interest, ensure that the Fed fulfills its full-employment mandate, increase transparency, protect consumers and reduce income inequality." That Senator is Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vt. And while Paul and Sanders may agree on some aspects of the Federal Reserve, they seem to be very far apart on health care reform.
Friday, April 8, 2011
If there is one citation that best explains the constitutional "police power" of the state, it might be from well-established precedent, or perhaps even literature, but what about Star Trek?
Here's the footnote:
See Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Paramount Pictures 1982). The film references several works of classic literature, none more prominently than A Tale of Two Cities. Spock gives Admiral Kirk an antique copy as a birthday present, and the film itself is bookended with the book's opening and closing passages. Most memorable, of course, is Spock's famous line from his moment of sacrifice: “Don't grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh ...” to which Kirk replies, “the needs of the few.”
Robinson v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., Inc., __ S.W.3d ___, 2010 WL 4144587 n.21 (Willet, J. concurring) (Tex. 2010).
The case addressed whether a statute that limits certain corporations' successor liability for personal injury claims of asbestos exposure violated the prohibition against retroactive laws contained in article I, section 16 of the Texas Constitution as applied to a pending action.
The Texas Supreme Court held the statute unconstitutional, finding any public interest served by the statute to be "slight."
Justice Willet, concurring, viewed the case not merely about whether the statute “singled out Barbara Robinson and unconstitutionally snuffed out her pending action against a lone corporation,” but it is about delimiting “the outer edge of police-power constitutionality,” an issue that “has bedeviled Texas courts for over a century.” Thus, Willet writes:
Appropriately weighty principles guide our course. First, we recognize that police power draws from the credo that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Second, while this maxim rings utilitarian and Dickensian (not to mention Vulcan), it is cabined by something contrarian and Texan: distrust of intrusive government and a belief that police power is justified only by urgency, not expediency.
Footnote 21, of course, is to the word "Vulcan."
with J. Zak Ritchie
[image: Star Trek Wrath of Khan uniform, via]
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Have a constitutional law perspective on the best-picture nominee and blockbuster Avatar?
Consider this CFP from The Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. (H/T Feminist Philosophers).
And among the Academy Award nominees for documentary film is The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, suitable for viewing (or reviewing) while teaching New York Times v. United States. If a class trip to the local cinema is not possible, consider one of the compressed and evocative snippets available: