Speech, Media Law, & First Amendment

Overview

The Cyberlaw Clinic has been very active in addressing a broad spectrum of legal issues faced by web-based media, including bloggers, website commenters, and other online speakers.  The Clinic has provided advice and counsel in matters involving First Amendment issues; defamation and libel claims; immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; the common law tort doctrine of hot news misapprpopriation; protections for speakers under state Anti-SLAPP laws; anonymous and pseudonymous speech online; and a host of issues relating to open government, transparency, and access to public documents and records.

The Clinic conducted initial research for and helped co-found the Citizen Media Law Project (“CMLP”), a joint initiative with the Center for Citizen Media that seeks to provide legal training and resources for individuals and organizations involved in citizen media, including research and advocacy on free speech, newsgathering, intellectual property, and other legal issues related to citizen media.  The CMLP has built a state-by-state guide to citizen media legal issues and a database of lawsuits and legal threats against citizen journalists, as well as developing a community of lawyers, academics, journalists, and others who are interested in facilitating citizen participation in online media and in protecting the legal rights of those engaged in speech on the Internet.  Since the CMLP was established, the Clinic has worked closely with CMLP staff attorneys on a number of discrete projects as well as larger education and policy initiatives and amicus briefs on issues of interest to online media.

Finally, filtering, surveillance, and censorship of online activities are problems in countries throughout the world.  The Cyberlaw Clinic has worked with a number of entities at the forefront of documenting and responding to these issues globally.

Representative Projects

Podcasting Legal Guide

The Clinic researched and drafted portions of the Podcasting Legal Guide: Rules for the Revolution in conjunction with Creative Commons and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

Discovery & Anonymous Speech

The Clinic helped to prepare a letter to a U.S. Magistrate seeking to participate, on behalf of the Electronic Frontier Foundation as amicus curiae, in a lawsuit to object to plaintiffs’ attempts to compel discovery of the identities of anonymous posters to a website run by the defendant.

CDA 230

The Clinic has counseled several non-profit online startups on issues relating to liability and immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Maxon v. Ottawa Publ’g Co.

The Clinic represented an amicus coalition that included the Citizen Media Law Project and a number of media and advocacy organizations, including Gannett Co., Inc.Hearst Corporation,Illinois Press AssociationOnline News AssociationPublic CitizenReporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Tribune Company, in asking an Illinois appellate court to protect the rights of anonymous speakers online by imposing procedural safeguards before requiring that their identities be disclosed.  In their brief, the amici urged the appellate court to join the growing consensus among courts nationwide by holding that a party must demonstrate that its underlying claim has merit before the court will require the disclosure of an anonymous online speaker’s identity.

Lamparello v. Falwell, Bosley Medical v. Kremer

The Clinic helped to protect critical online speech by submitting amicus briefs to the Fourth Circuit in Lamparello v. Falwell, and the Ninth Circuit in Bosley Medical Institute v. Kremer, on behalf of two groups of intellectual property law faculty, urging the important principle that, consistent with First Amendment values, use of a trademark as a domain name to identify a “gripe” or critical commentary website must occur in a commercial context before it can violate federal trademark laws.

Dugas v. Robbins

The Clinic represented the Citizen Media Law Project, together with the Online News AssociationMedia Bloggers AssociationNew England Press Association, and Globe Newspaper Company, publisher of The Boston Globe and Boston.com, in urging a broad reading of Massachusetts’ anti-SLAPP law by filing an amici curiae brief in the case of Dugas v. Robbins, Case No. BACV2008-491.  The case concerned allegations of defamation against a blogger on Cape Cod.

Open Net Initiative

The Clinic collaborated with the Open Net Initiative (“ONI”) and the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program and Clinic to explore legal issues as parts of the ONI’s ongoing investigation, analysis and reporting on Internet filtering, surveillance, and censorship by governments around the world. Students made winter-term trips to Russia, Singapore, and Thailand for first-hand fact-gathering and research on these issues.

Global Network Initiative

The Clinic has provided support to the Global Network Initiative a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations (including human rights and press freedom groups), investors, and academics that have adopted a collaborative approach to protecting and advancing freedom of expression in the Information & Communications Technology sector.