Tag Archives: free speech

Chilling piece on copyright legislation must read

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress and at least one academic are sounding the alarm about a copyright infringement bill that could cost some of us our free speech.

Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media and director of the Knight Center of Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, wrote a chilling article about the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” in Salon. Simply put, he calls it “yet another dishonest conflating of infringement and counterfeiting, but that’s standard for lawmakers.”

In essence, the law would allow sites that are deemed to be infringing on copyright to be blocked by Internet Service Providers. The problem is the legislation is currently written very broadly. Demand Progess, a Progressive campaigning site founded by Aaron Swartz, has an excellent fact sheet on the legislation here. That means that sites the courts have already deemed as not violating copyright could be blocked under the new legislation.

Gillmor argues that most of us haven’t heard of the bill because corporate media has a vested interest in its passage.

Quite frankly, the fact that Gillmor is concerned about the impact of this legislation is enough for me. I have great respect for him and his work. If he’s worried, I’m worried.

For more on the debate, see Gillmor’s piece. To look at the legislation, go here.


Media Law Case of the Week

When is a libel threat really an attempt to muffle criticism, in particular press criticism?

Journalists at an Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, argue that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is trying to use his libel suit against the paper to do just that — shut up opposing voices, according to UK newspaper The Guardian.

And what did this paper do that the Prime Minister did not like?

La Repubblica has asked that Berlusconi answer “10 New Questions” about his relationships with several women — some of whom are reported to be prostitutes and at least one a minor.

The Guardian reports that the Italian newspaper is trying to get 500,000 people to sign an online petition calling for press freedom by Oct. 3 and that newspaper editors in Britain, Germany, Spain and France have signed it.

If you’d like to sign it, click here. To easily translate the petition from Italian to English, you can use Babel Fish.

Free speech in jeopardy post-9/11

If you value free speech (and who doesn’t?), this will send a chill down your spine. I know it did mine.

Newsweek, the LA Times and other media outlets are reporting that a Justice Department memo secretly advised the Bush administration that it could suspend First Amendment speech rights if needed to fight the war on terror. The memo on “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States” was issued in October 2001 and not revoked until seven years later, right before Bush left office.


This memo, released with others this week by the Obama adminstration, also  indicated it would be legal to spy on Americans with high tech equipment and deploy the U.S. military within the U.S. itself for operations against terrorists.  “We believe these operations generally would not be subject to the constraints of the Fourth Amendment, so long as the armed forces are undertaking a military function,” the memo concludes.

Ah, the Fourth Amendment. What was that one about again? That’s right–unreasonable search and seizures.

And what does this memo say about our beloved First Amendment?

“First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully,” the memo states on Page 24.

See the memo for yourself here.

Rat wins peculiar free speech case

This file photo by the Associated Press shows a large, inflated rat used at a N.J. union protest in 2001.

This file photo by the Associated Press shows a large, inflated rat used at a N.J. union protest in 2001.

And now, for a moment of levity after days of media coverage of tragedies …

A rat wins a free speech case case, and free speech advocates should cheer.

The rat, pictured above, is used by unions nationwide as a symbol of a labor dispute. But in New Jersey, the Associated Press reports, police in Lawrence Township fined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union local for using the rat.

New Jersey’s state Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects the rat as free speech and that the township’s law, which allowed some kinds of signage and not others, was not content neutral.

U.S. detainment of journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists has asked President Obama to look at the U.S. military’s detention of journalists.

The group says that 14 journalists have been held for long periods of time in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo without due process. One of the 14 remains so.

The group also says that 16 journalists have been killed by the U.S. military in Iraq since 2003.

The committee’s report serves as a reminder that we must hold our government accountable for its actions.

Name 14-year-old accused of shooting cop?

A police officer in Rochester, NY, was shot in the head while walking away from a group that police had questioned but not arrested.  Three days later, a 14-year-old turns himself into police, according to police and judicial officials at a press conference. They did not name him during the press conference.

The child (and to me, a 14-year-old is a child, not a man) pleaded not guilty to first-degree assault and second-degree attempted murder. Although charged as a juvenile, his case is in adult court and his name was in The Democrat & Chronicle’s news story Feb. 4 and his photo was on the web site. His face and name were also all over R-News, WHEC-TVWOKR-TV and WROC-TV.

The child had been in trouble with the law before this and had not reported to the people supervising him since April 2008, according to the D&C. The D&C’s editorial board is right to ask, “How is it that a 14-year-old can go for nearly a year without reporting for adult supervision as required?”

I’m not sure, however, that the D&C and other Rochester area news media are right to use this child’s name and image. He is innocent until proven guilty and he is 14. Just because journalists have the name and image does not mean they should use them.

The shooting has been an emotional story that has gripped the Rochester, NY, region. Prayers, donations and messages of support for the police officer and his family rightfully abound.

My concern is that, after the media coverage, this child, regardless of the verdict, will never be seen as anything but an attempted cop killer. Some of the people posting reactions to today’s D&C story are already calling for the death penalty and talking as if he has been convicted. This child has already been sentenced for life.

Supreme Court likely to consider disgusting free speech case

Are you an absolutist? Do you believe no law should abridge free speech?

I am an absolutist, but an issue the Supreme Court is likely to tackle sure made me think about that.

The United States solicitor general asked the Supreme Court to look at whether a law that makes it illegal to sell videos depicting animal cruelty violates the First Amendment, according to Adam Liptak at the New York Times. The law in question does not make the animal cruelty illegal; other laws deal with the actual act. This law only criminalizes depiction of the act.

In a fascinating yet disturbing read, Liptak details how this law prohibits the sale of sexual fetish videos involving animal cruelty and dog fighting videos, among other things, and brings into question whether some speech simply has “no value.”

It’s a sick case. It’s hard to believe that anyone would want to see such images. But I guarantee this article and this case will make  you think about where to draw the line on free speech.

Muslims have rights to free speech, don’t forget

Great story today on how violating people’s free speech rights has a cost.  The story is about an airline passenger forced to cover his T-shirt because of the Arabic writing. This reportedly led to the man receiving  $240,000 in compensation.

It’s about time stories of the second-class treatment of Muslims in this country since 9-11 are starting to get wide attention. In the past week alone, this story and one of Muslims forced off a plane for “suspicious” discussions have gained nationwide attention.

My brother-in-law is an Iranian immigrant forced to leave his own country during the Revolution. If he goes back, he faces death. He would never complain about how the U.S. has treated him–quite the contrary, in fact. However, if one travels with him, one notices that this  physician must adopt a placating, quiet manner in order not to be seen as a threat. His mere appearance and name already raise suspicion. He can’t talk boisterously  like the rest of us can if we would like. That would raise eyebrows. And heaven forbid he have to take a phone call from a relative and speak in Farsi.

As journalists, we should help those who feel the need to be voiceless regain their voices. In doing so, we can remind people that the First Amendment is not just for Christians. It is for all.