September 2, 2005
Internet Company Sues Blogger for Reader Comments
Traffic-Power.com, an Internet company that advertises that it can get a website "top search engine placement", has sued Aaron Wall, who runs a website called SEOBook.com, because of negative comments posted by readers on his blog. According to the complaint,"[a]n unidentified individual, acting alone or in concert with others, has recently misappropriated and disseminated through web sites Plaintiff's confidential information. This information could have been obtained only through a breach of Plaintiff's confidentiality agreement. The unauthorized use and distribution of this information violates Nevada's trade secrets statue[sic] and has caused irreparable harm to Plaintiff." Read more about Aaron Wall and the complaint here. Read more about the background of the suit in the Wall Street Journal online here.
Whether or not Section 230 immunity applies to Mr. Wall remains to be decided by a Nevada state court, but a legal showdown may be moot. According to his website, Mr. Wall and the Traffic-Power.com folks are already discussing an out-of-court settlement.
Thanks to Paul Caron for alerting me to this story.
Duke University Graduate Student Files Suit Against Website for Selling Her Term Paper Without Permission
A Duke University graduate student is suing the operator of a website that posts term papers and other research materials available for purchase by students. Blue Macellari contends that someone posted her undergraduate term paper on South Africa without her permission on a website owned and run by Rusty Carroll. Carroll owns and operates several such sites, including Doingmyhomework.com. Read more on the case, possibly the first of its kind, here, in a story about Macellari's representation, and here, in an AP story about the filing of the suit. The Center for Academic Integrity, mentioned in the AP story, can be found here.
Navy SEAL Lawsuit Over
Four Navy SEALS and the wife of a Navy SEAL have decided not to appeal the dismissal of their lawsuit against the Associated Press for invasion of privacy. The case began last year when journalist Seth Hettena found photos of SEALS posed with Iraqi prisoners on the net and publicized them. Judge Jeffrey Miller dismissed the case in July, finding it without basis. Read more here.
Jonna Spilbor On the Jackson Jurors' Tell All Books
Findlaw Columnist Jonna Spilbor writes about two Michael Jackson jurors and the books they have written about their experiences here.
Vermont Supreme Court Reverses Lower Court--Station Not Entitled to Qualified Privilege
Overenthusiastic BoSox fans rioted on the University of Vermont campus in the early morning of October 21, 2004. Reporters from WCAX caught the event on tape. When the Chittenden County State's Attorney Office sought to get outtakes of that coverage for possible prosecution, WCAX refused, citing the First Amendment, since Vermont has no reporter's shield law. A trial court agreed and refused to issue the DA's requested subpoena, "indicat[ing] at the outset that WCAX was entitled to a qualified privilege that could be overcome only if the State had made sufficient efforts to exhaust other, nonprivileged sources of information. At that time, the trial court was not satisfied with the State's efforts. The State did more investigation and asked the court to issue a second subpoena. The court heard the case on the second request and again held that the State had not met its burden to adequately investigate other avenues of information."
In reversing the court, the Vermont Supreme Court held that, "[i]In the circumstances of this case, no privilege, qualified or otherwise, excuses WCAX from furnishing the videotape of the riot. Therefore, the State did not have to show that the materials were available from other sources. The facts here are essentially indistinguishable from those in Branzburg v.Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972), in which the United States Supreme Court held that there is no constitutional privilege under the First Amendment that excuses reporters from appearing and testifying before grand juries
investigating criminal conduct, even if the source of their information is confidential." Further, the Court held that "This case does not, of course, involve the protection of any confidential source, as the WCAX reporters witnessed and videotaped a public event that was exposed for all to see. But the Court's statements regarding the duty of reporters who have witnessed crimes, and the policy
considerations that may be implicated on such occasions, apply with equal force here. With respect to a reporter's concealment of evidence of a crime, the Court stated, [W]e cannot seriously entertain the notion that the First Amendment protects a newsman's agreement to conceal the criminal conduct of his source, or evidence thereof, on the theory that it is better to write about crime than to do something about it. Insofar as any reporter in these cases undertook not to reveal or testify about the crime he witnessed, his claim of privilege under the First Amendment presents no substantial question. The crimes of news sources are no less reprehensible and threatening
to the public interest when witnessed by a reporter than when they are not.....Even accepting the asserted fact that some news sources might "dry up" as a result of its decision, the Court found that the public interest in future news about crimes was of less weight than the interest in prosecuting crimes already committed. While the press has the right to withhold whatever information from publication that it chooses, the exercise of that right does not grant the press a First Amendment "exemption" from the ordinary duty of all citizens to furnish relevant information to a grand jury.... Branzburg is controlling here notwithstanding the fact that the State's Attorney proceeded by way of an inquest pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 5131, rather than by convening a grand jury. Like a grand jury investigation, an inquest is a process whose purpose is to aid in the
inquiry into the existence of probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed..... "
Read the entire opinion here.
Australian PM Suggests Media Law Reform May Not Happen
Australian Prime Minister John Howard back pedalled on suggestions that non-Australian based companies might be able to buy stakes in Australian media, even though officials in his government had raised such hopes earlier this week. The PM indicated that he was not a strong supporter of changes in the country's media ownership rules. Read more here.
September 1, 2005
Technological Drawbacks With Wireless Wiretapping
Trey Popp has an interesting article on VoIP wiretapping at Technology Review.com, which points out that some experts think "that the government's move could actually threaten national security, as well as dampen industry innovation."
Creative Technologies Claims Its New Patent Trumps Apple's iPod
Creative Technologies, maker of the Nomad Jukebox MP3 player, claims its Zen patent, applied for in 2001 and awarded in August of 2005, predates the Apple technology on which it claims the Apple iPOD and similar products are based. Creative's spokespersons did not indicate whether they planned to sue rivals for patent infringement, seek a licensing arrangement or pursue other options. Read more here on the CNN website and here in the San Francisco Chronicle.
August 31, 2005
Los Angeles D. A. Obtains First Guilty Plea Under State's Online Downloading Theft Law
The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office has scored its first guilty plea in an Internet "poaching" case. Jed Kobles pled guilty to "conspiracy to commit grand theft in the first criminal Internet file-sharing case brought in California" according to L. A. prosecutors. Kobles apparently allowed users of his file sharing service, called UTB Smokinghouse, to download copyrighted material--movies such as Terminator 3 and A Beautiful Mind, tv shows such as The Simpsons, video games, and music. Read the press release here.
Meanwhile, the recording industry continues to pursue file-swappers. Read more here.
British Government Seeks to Outlaw Internet Pornography
Tony Blair's government is seeking to ban the viewing or downloading of violent pornography from outside the UK via the Internet. Currently, other forms of pornography are regulated through the Obscene Publications Act. Read more here and here. Read a BBC story and the government's consultation paper here.
Media Coverage of Hurricane Katrina; "Martial Law"
Here's a story about the story: the Hollywood Reporter reports on problems faced by journalists covering the hurricane and its aftermath.
I put the statement about "martial law" in New Orleans in an earlier post in quotation marks. Here's why. Governor Blanco declared a state of emergency on August 26, 2005, before the hurricane hit. It extends through September 25, 2005 and confers wide powers upon officials acting in her name to do what is needed to restore order. Some media interpreted the emergency order as martial law. Attorney General Charles Foti's office issued a clarification Tuesday night. See the piece in the Times-Picayune.
August 30, 2005
Katrina, Be Gone
Police allowed media with proper identification to enter New Orleans around 8 a.m. today to cover Katrina's devastation. Residents were and are still prohibited from re-entering the city, and for good reason. This morning's assessments are that eighty percent of the city is underwater. In addition, many bridges and highways are blocked because of damage. What access there is is being reserved for rescue vehicles. Massive rescue efforts are underway to rescue those trapped by the flooding caused by rain, storm surge, and breached levees. Today, reports are coming in that more than 2000 people have already been rescued. A local tv station tells us that city officials have invoked "martial law" because looting has begun. The head of FEMA told a local tv station last night that apart from the California wildfires, Katrina was the worst natural disaster he had ever witnessed. Read more here, here, and here.
August 28, 2005
Tennessee AG Asks Country Singer to Stop "Glamorizing" Use of Smokeless Tobacco
Tennessee AG Paul Summers says Gretchen Wilson may be violating the 1998 settlement between tobacco companies and the state of Tennessee when she uses a tin of Skoal as a prop during her performances of her hit song "Redneck Woman". According to CNN's story, since the tune's lyrics refer to smokeless tobacco, and Wilson is a popular singer, Summers theorizes that young people may be drawn to smokeless tobacco use simply by example. The U. S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, manufacturer of Skoal, apparently denies any link with Wilson. In response Wilson's representatives announced she will no longer use the can as a prop. Read more here and here.