Wick Communications

Archive for the ‘Media law’ Category

Prince ‘crazy’ to press this one

In Media law on 17 Sep 2015 at 12:37 pm

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 11.14.54 AM

Has anyone ever asked you to take down something from your website by claiming copyright to the material? Then pay attention. This involves a dancing baby, a barely audible YouTube video and Prince. Yes, that Prince.

This week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals settled an important point of law in a ruling on the case. It requires anyone issuing a “takedown notice” consider the concept of fair use before telling YouTube (or the Montrose Daily Press for that matter) to take something off the Web.

In 2007, a woman named Stephanie Lenz thought it would be cute to post this video of her child dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Prince’s lawyers must have good ears, because I can’t even make out the song. Nevertheless, one of the world’s great entertainers wanted to assert the principle that he controls his art. It’s understandable, in a way. He can’t selectively enforce his copyright claims. So he asked YouTube to take down the video. YouTube did that. Until Lenz claimed fair use and sued Universal Music Corp. for misrepresenting a Digital Millennium Copyright Act claim.

This week, the appellate court ruled in Lenz’ favor. She and her now pre-teen are free to go crazy.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? … Read the rest of this entry »


The good guys win one

In Media law on 4 Sep 2015 at 7:58 am

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 4.28.12 PM

There was a fascinating and also sort of terrifying bit of courtroom drama this week in New Iberia, La., and it involved a Wick newspaper. The important thing is that the good guys won in the end.

The story is a bit convoluted, and I hope someone will let me know if I get any of the particulars wrong. But the short version is that an anonymous commenter on the Daily Iberian website wrote to impugn the integrity of a local attorney named David Groner. Here’s the comment:

I read the paper where David Groner is representing Deputy Sanders Butler in the sexual harassment. The only thing you need to know is that Butler helped Groner in his failed bid for State Senator against Fred Mills and Simone Champagne. That’s when the truth came out about Groner having a reputation for engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.

Now, that might strike you as unfair (and it did to me as well, at first). But the commenter linked to a 2008 Louisiana Supreme Court opinion that noted those very allegations. Groner was suspended from practicing law for six months, though that suspension was deferred upon completion of a supervised probation…. Read the rest of this entry »

Toss those old notes

In Media law on 28 May 2015 at 5:06 pm


What do you do with your notes? I mean after you’ve pored over them and written your latest award-winning story. Do you stack all those oddly shaped spiral notebooks on a corner of your desk so that the dust mites have something to cling to? Do you hide them in a drawer somewhere? Throw them away?

I would suggest the latter. While smart people may tell you otherwise, I think the preponderance of experience suggests you are better off systematically getting rid of them. With a caveat.

First, let’s be real: I’ve been a reporter for a long, long time and only very rarely wish I’d had some original notes from longer ago than, say, a month. Now, I’m not Bob Woodward. If I thought I was going to write a book about something I’d been reporting in the newspaper, I would handle notes differently. But I’m not, and you probably aren’t Carl Bernstein either.

I’d like to tell you I keep a clean desk and daily go through my stuff to purge anything not immediately useful. In truth, I let things lie around for about a month then the mess begins to piss me off and I throw stuff away wholesale. It isn’t the most efficient process, but you won’t find anything on my desk from 2005 either. If you’ve already written the story, you probably don’t need those notes.

But there is an even more compelling reason to destroy your notes: They could be subpoenaed one day. You would rather truthfully tell the court that you routinely throw out your notes than try to assert your rights to protect sources and your unpublished materials. … Read the rest of this entry »

Hiding the cost of government

In Media law on 24 Apr 2015 at 8:30 am

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 1.55.40 PM

Have you ever asked for the legal bills incurred by a local municipality? Did you get them?

This month, a California appellate court made a serious error in vacating a Superior Court ruling that compelled Los Angeles County to release legal bills related to claims of excessive force at county jails. As a result, local government agencies in the state are sure to deny access to legal bills by claiming those bills are privileged communication between client and attorney.

I followed the rather torturous legal rationale outlined in County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court No. B257230 but, with due respect, that is our money and claims of violent abuse at the hands of jail guards are more important than esoteric arguments over the nuance of attorney-client privilege.

It all started in 2013, when the ACLU requested legal bills related to the county’s defense of nine cases brought by jail inmates alleging excessive force in the county jail system. The ACLU contended that lawyers working on behalf of the county were engaged in “scorched earth” tactics designed to drag out cases that should be settled. Because it was the public’s money and because the allegations go to the heart of our trust in government agents, the ACLU argued the public had a compelling right to see those bills. … Read the rest of this entry »

Innocent till proven guilty

In Media law on 30 Oct 2014 at 12:37 pm


We have a time-honored legal tradition in this country and really among free people everywhere: You are innocent until proven guilty. It comes from the Latin, Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. (The burden of proof is on he who declares, not on he who denies.) It goes back to Roman law.

It’s important not to forget that principle in all aspects of our journalism. And it’s especially easy to assume guilt in headlines, where you may only have a handful of words to convey a complicated set of circumstances.

The headline you see above comes from a Wick paper earlier this month. The story says two local gents were arrested on suspicion of theft, but the headline clearly implies guilt. There has been no trial, yet we have these two guys named, with their photos, under a headline saying they did it.

Many of us have written similar headlines in the rush of deadline. … Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to The FOIA Machine

In Media law on 25 Jul 2013 at 11:44 am

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 12.59.09 PM

A Serbian guy by the name of Djordje Padesjski is about to rock your world.

Padesjski is the founder of something called The FOIA Machine, which seeks to aid journalists and others in their attempts to get public documents from public agencies that sometimes have a vested interest in making that as difficult as possible.

If you’ve ever filed for Freedom of information Act request you know that there is very little that is more frustrating. Some agencies have appointed someone to help with the process. Others act like they have never heard of the concept of public documents. There are exceptions and roadblocks at every turn. Multiply that by hundreds of government agencies in 50 states and dozens of foreign countries that have open records laws and you can imagine the heartache attendant to getting government to give you what is rightly yours.

But imagine you could just fill out an online form that would automatically factor in differing agency rules and track your request. Developers have referred to it as “a TurboTax for government records.”

Padesjski pitched the idea while a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and he made some powerful friends. He won funding through the Knight Foundation and now he’s got investigative journalists, coders and data experts working on a prototype as well as thousands to invest in developing the site and a vision that could literally upend the way we all deal with government. This is a really, really big idea. … Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t ‘confine’ that public figure

In Media law on 29 Oct 2010 at 8:27 am

Here’s a weird one: Earlier this month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation subjecting journalists to “false imprisonment” claims based on the premise that they sometimes “confine” public figures while gathering news. Ah, California.

Actually, Assembly Bill 2479 provides for an extension of existing invasion of privacy laws and is aimed at curbing the obvious abuses of the paparazzi. I’m sure you have seen clips of a dozen or more guys with cameras surrounding some celebrity to the point said celebrity can hardly escape. Often the celeb gets behind the wheel and speeds off, putting everyone in jeopardy, including the cameramen.

Think Princess Diana. And remember California’s governor has himself been bothered to distraction by paparazzi.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association opposed the legislation, noting that there is nothing in the law that would protect actual journalists – not just unethical paparazzi — from what are now trebled penalties, including for reckless driving undertaken in the process of trying to take pictures of public figures… Read the rest of this entry »

The three identifiers

In Media law on 1 Oct 2010 at 8:03 am

Want to be scared? I mean really, really scared? Look what Baltimore journalist Van Smith did to Ioannis Kafouros – and what a federal court subsequently did to Smith.

The court awarded Kafouros, a Miami restaurateur, $350,000, ruling that he had been defamed by the Baltimore City Paper reporter. What did Smith do to cost his employer a six-figure judgment?

He said the Miami Kafouros was a Baltimore man by the same name, a man his criminal conspirators knew as “Crazy John.” Unfortunately, for Smith and his employer, there are two Ioannis Kafouroses. The plaintiff’s attorney said Smith ran with the story “based on nothing more than a Google search and a five-minute conversation.”

Smith is a veteran reporter who by all accounts does good work. He just made an expensive mistake this time because he was careless. Let’s hope his bad fortune serves as a reminder for us all… Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s go libel touring!

In Media law on 27 Aug 2010 at 8:22 am

Continuing our weeks’ long tour around the virtual courthouse, we come to the strange outpost known as foreign libel court.

It seems that some international readers have been taking offense at the writings of American authors and then taking their case to court … foreign court. The term “libel tourism” has been around since at least 2005, when a Saudi billionaire sued New York-based author Rachel Ehrenfeld in a British court over her book Funding Evil. Ehrenfeld ultimately lost the case and was ordered to pay £10,000 and legal costs.

The reason writers are being sued elsewhere is because other countries don’t have the same reverence for free speech we enjoy. There is no First Amendment – and none of the so-called Section 230 protections afforded Internet Service Providers here either.

Well, earlier this month the good guys scored a victory. President Barack Obama signed the Speech Act, which forbids federal courts from recognizing foreign libel judgments that don’t jibe with our own First Amendment protections.

This is one of those things that isn’t likely to hit home in Wasilla or Ontario. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to keep abreast of any change in libel law, for obvious reasons.


On Wisconsin

In Media law on 20 Aug 2010 at 8:26 am

Can you stream video – or for that matter even live blog – from high school sporting events? You can now, but you might want to keep an eye on a case in Wisconsin.

Gannett and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association are appealing a federal court decision that ruled some high school athletic events are private affairs … even though they occur on public land and stem from public schools.

Curious legislative reasoning, if you ask me (and they certainly didn’t.)

Here’s what happened: The Post-Crescent newspaper provided live streaming video coverage of four high school playoff games in 2008. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association cried foul, saying that interfered with its sale of rights for such coverage to a third-party contractor. The court agreed with the association. Judge William Conley: “Ultimately, this is a case about commerce, not the right to a free press.”

There is no question commerce is involved. But this is different from, say, a Major League baseball team coming down on the local paper for some similar transgression. These are public schools operating with public money on public fields.

Apparently, in the Wisconsin case, it was OK for the newspaper to stream regular-season games because the association didn’t or couldn’t sell those rights… Read the rest of this entry »