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Monday, June 30, 2003

L.A. Times on Spike

The Los Angeles Times reports on Spike Lee v. Viacom here.

The article notes that Justice Tolub has ruled that the action will be tried without a jury. Perhaps somewhat cynically, I thought that the complaint in the case -- filed in New York court and premised entirely upon New York, rather than federal, causes of action -- tipped Cochran's hand by demonstrating that he wanted to get the case in front of a New York State court jury. While there may be a few strong decisions interpreting New York's analogues to the Lanham Act out there, I'm not aware of New York state law providing any particular benefits to plaintiffs. Additionally, New York's state courts have consistently rejected arguments for the adoption of a California-style descendible right of publicity. On the other hand, New York is obviously where Spike Lee is most popular. I would think that the ruling on the jury issue was quite a blow to Team Cochran. But who knows, the success Lee has had so far has already surprised me.

On Newsstands Now!

This month's Radar magazine has a bunch of interesting media law-related articles -- an interview with Matt Drudge conducted by Camille Paglia and Maer Roshan; a feature on attorney L. Lin Wood, who is representing Richard Jewell, the Ramsey family, and Gary Condit in suits against the media; and an article on the potential downfall of the "Girls Gone Wild" empire in the wake of the April 2003 arrest of founder Joe Francis on charges including violations of RICO, promoting the sexual performance of children, procuring persons younger than 18 for prostitution and drug trafficking.

Unfortunately, only the Drudge interview is available via the Web.

Condit's Fight Release of Phone Records

Attorneys for Carolyn and Gary Condit are fighting requests made by The National Enquirer for Gary Condit's cell and Washington, D.C. apartment phone records. The Enquirer seeks to use the records to bolster its defense in the $10 million libel lawsuit filed by Carolyn Condit. Ms. Condit sued after the paper published an August 2001 story with the headline "Cops: Condit's Wife Attacked Chandra."

According to an Associated Press report [here via Monterey County Herald], the Enquirer's attorneys have argued that the tabloid is entitled to know whether phone records show Carolyn Condit contacted Levy.

The case is set for trial September 30.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Seventh Circuit To Rehear College Newspaper Case

Updating a prior post [here], the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed yesterday to rehear Hosty v. Carter, a civil rights action brought by three college students at Governors State University, a state-run institution in University Park, Illinois against Patricia Carter, the university’s dean of Student Affairs and Services, arising out of the dean's apparent attempt to have school officials review material scheduled to be printed in the school's newspaper prior to publication.

In April, a unanimous three-judge panel had ruled that prior review of college newspapers is unconstitutional and that the case against Dean Carter could proceed [decision here]. In arguing for the rehearing, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asserted that the three-judge panel overlooked previous court cases that demonstrate that the law governing free-speech rights for college students is not "clearly established." [report via Student Press Law Center here]

Looking at the current development optimistically, the decision to rehear the case may not mean that the April decision's holding that the broad censorship powers of high school administrators do not apply in the university setting will simply be thrown out. Rather, the court may hold that for purposes of Dean Carter's qualified immunity defense the law concerning censorship of school newspapers was not sufficiently established to put her on notice that her actions were in violation of the First Amendment.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Savage Makes End Run

Radio-talk-show and weekend MSNBC host Michael Savage has filed a lawsuit against three websites, Take Back The Media, Michael Savage Sucks, and Savage Stupidity. [lawsuit via Savage Stupidity here] [heads up via Sugar, Mr. Poon?]

While the suit alleges that the defendants have spread defamatory e-mail, no claim for defamation is alleged. Rather, Savage pleads claims for tortious interference with contract and prospective economic relations and unfair trade practices.

British MP Files Suit Against UK Daily Telegraph

Suspended Labour MP George Galloway has issued High Court libel proceedings against The Daily Telegraph over a claim that he was in the pay of Saddam Hussein. [report via Channel 4 here] [link via Drudge]

According to the report, Galloway was suspended from the Labour Party over comments he made in an interview to an Arab television station. Mr Galloway branded Mr Blair and US President George Bush as "wolves."

Diet Pill Maker Sues The New York Times

MediaLife Magazine reports here that diet pill manufacturer Cytodyne Technologies Inc. has filed suit against The New York Times in New Jersey federal court over a front page story that "raised questions about the safety of Xenadrine RFA-1, a weight loss aid that contains ephedra." According to the report, the company, making implicit reference to Jayson Blair, alleges that the story by Ford Fessenden exemplifies the Times’ "pattern and practice of failing to supervise its reporters and failing to check the accuracy and completeness of the stories that run in the newspaper."

Complaint Department

Findlaw has collected the complaints in Rowlings v. Daily News and Price v. Sports Illustrated and Spike Lee's Memo of Law seeking a preliminary injunction, the preliminary injunction, istself, and the appellate court decision denying Viacom's motion to stay the order.

Supreme Court Refuses to Rule in Nike v. Kasky

Six justices of the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that certiorari should not have been granted and dismissed Nike v. Kasky in a one-sentence, unsigned order. In a separate opinion, Justice Stevens explained some of the reasons for dismissing the case. Stevens said the court did not need to delve into the complex free speech issues raised by the case now. "This case presents novel First Amendment questions because the speech at issue represents a blending of commercial speech and debate on issues of public importance," Stevens wrote for himself and Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Nike v. Kasky, No. 02-575 (U.S. June 26, 2003).

Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen Breyer went on record saying the court could have resolved the case.

The result allows a suit filed by Marc Kasky, a California antiglobalization activist, for false advertising to proceed against Nike. [coverage via Washington Post here]

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Actual Malice has moved!

ActualMalice.com has a new home and rss/rdf feed.
SDNY Holds Racist Speech Still Protected Speech

U.S. District Court Judge John E. Sprizzo for the Southern District of New York has ruled that "former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the heads of the police and fire department violated the First Amendment when they fired three employees for participating in a racist float during a 1998 Labor Day parade." [coverage via New York Law Journal here]

The float, an "alleged parody of African-American integration into the predominantly white community," featured performers in black face and Afro wigs. At the end of the parade, NYC firefighter Jonathan Walters hung from the back of the truck, reminiscent of the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, earlier that year. Walters, fellow firefighter Robert Steiner and NYPD Officer Joseph Locurto were fired after disciplinary hearings.

Judge Sprizzo found that participation in the parade "constituted speech on a matter of public concern" because the float had two aims: "to comment on the future racial integration of Broad Channel" and to win the funniest float prize -- "a prize the group had won in the past with other ethnicity-parodying floats." The Court concluded that "the long, continuing debate over the desirability of community racial integration in this country permits no doubt that the topic is a matter of important political and social concern to the community, regardless of which side of the debate is being represented."

Ninth Circuit Rules on CDA Immunity

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has held, in a 2-1 vote, that the posting of an allegedly defamatory email message (written by a third party) by the moderator of a listerv and operator of a website may be covered by the federal immunity for liability by providers and users of interactive computer services for "information provided by another", as specified in the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230. Batzel v. Smith, No. 01-56556 (9th Cir. June 24, 2003) [opinion here]

The case arose out of an e-mail message sent by "sometime-handyman" Robert Smith to the Museum Security Network, a nonprofit organization that maintains both a website and an electronic e-mailed newsletter about museum security and stolen art. Smith's e-mail related his experiences while working in the North Carolina home of attorney Ellen Batzel. In the e-mail Smith stated that Batzel had bragged that she was granddaughter of one of Hitler's right-hand men and he believed that she had stated she was a descendant of Heinrich Himmler. Smith called attention to the "hundreds of older European paintings on [Batzel's] walls, all with heavy carved wooden frames," which Batzel has allegedly told Smith she had inherited. Smith then stated, "I believe these paintings were looted during WWII and are the rightful legacy of the Jewish people," and provided her address.

Smith's e-mail was received by Ton Cremers, "then-Director of Security at Amsterdam's famous Rijksmuseumand (in his spare time) sole operator of the Museum Security Network." Cremers, after making some minor changes to Smith's e-mail, then posted the message to the Museum Security Newtwork's listserv and on the Network's website. According to the Court's opinion, "the Network's website and listserv mailings are read by hundreds of museum security officials, insurance investigators, and law enforcement personnel around the world, who use the information in the Network posting to track down stolen art."

After discovering the message, Batzel brought suit against Smith, Cremers, the Netherlands Museum Association and Mosler, Inc., an advertiser on the Network's listserv and website.

Cremers filed two motions -- a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, which was denied, and a motion to dismiss based on California's Anti-SLAPP statute, which was also denied. The Ninth Circuit after deciding that it had jurisdiction to review the district court's denial of Cremers' anti-SLAPP motion addressed the issue of whether Cremers' actions were protected by the provisions of § 230 of the CDA.

The Court ultimately found that "a service provider or user is immune from liability under § 230(c)(1) when a third person or entity that created or developed the information in question furnished it to the provider or user under circumstances in which a reasonable person in the position of the service provider or user would conclude that the information was provided for publication on the Internet or other 'interactive computer service.'"

The "reasonable person" qualification arose out of the evidence that Smith claimed that he had no idea that his e-mail would be published by Cremers on the listserv and website. Thus, creating the issue of whether Smith's e-mail qualified as "information provided by another" under the statute.

The Court vacated the district court's order denying Cremers' anti-SLAPP motion and remanded the case to the district court "to develop the facts under this newly announced standard and to evaluate what Cremers
should have reasonably concluded at the time he received Smith's e-mail." The Court continued:
If Cremers should have reasonably concluded, for example, that because Smith's e-mail arrived via a different e-mail address it was not provided to him for possible posting on the listserv, then Cremers cannot take advantage of the § 230(c) immunities. Under that circumstance, the posted information was not 'provided' by another 'information content provider' within the meaning of § 230. After making such an inquiry, the district court must then evaluate whether Batzel adequately has demonstrated a probability that she will prevail on the merits of her complaint under California's anti-SLAPP statute.

Dissenting from the test set out by the majority for the application of § 230 in this case, Judge Ronald M. Gould wrote:
The majority rule licenses professional rumor-mongers and gossip-hounds to spread false and hurtful information with impunity. So long as the defamatory information was written by a person who wanted the information to be spread on the Internet (in other words, a person with an axe to grind), the rumormonger's injurious conduct is beyond legal redress. Nothing in the CDA's text or legislative history suggests that Congress intended CDA immunity to extend so far. Nothing in the text, legislative history, or human experience would lead me to accept the notion that Congress in § 230 intended to immunize users or providers of interactive computer services who, by their discretionary decisions to spread particular communications, cause trickles of defamation to swell into rivers of harm.

The problems caused by the majority's rule all would vanish if we focused our inquiry not on the author's intent, but on the defendant's acts, as I believe Congress intended. We should hold that the CDA immunizes a defendant only when the defendant took no active role in selecting the questionable information for publication. If the defendant took an active role in selecting information for publication, the information is no longer "information provided by another" within the meaning of § 230. We should draw this conclusion from the statute's text and purposes.


New York Video Voyeur Law Enacted

New York Governor George Pataki signed a law making video voyeurism -- "secretly photographing another person in a private place, such as a bathroom or bedroom -- a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison." [coverage via CNN here] [Governor's press release here] [prior related posts here and here]

I am Spike-tacus!

Spike Jones Jr., son of the "legendary music satirist," has entered the fray between Spike Lee and Viacom over Viacom's proposal to change the name of the TNN cable channel to "SPIKE TV." Jones, Jr. has apparently filed an affidavit on behalf of Viacom, arguing that giving Spike Lee exclusive rights to the name Spike would improperly limit the rights in the name and likeness of Spike Jones. [coverage via CNN here]

In other developments, Justice Tolub, who entered a preliminary injunction against the name change on June 13, has ordered Lee to increase the $500,000 bond initially ordered with an additional $2 million. Trial of the action has been scheduled for August 18, after Lee's attorneys rejected an offer to hold the trial on July 7. [coverage via Newsday here] [prior related posts here, here, here, here and here]

Monday, June 23, 2003

Reality TV Trial Set to Begin Monday

Findlaw reports here [via CourtTV] that Philip Zelnick's suit against Peter Funt, "Candid Camera," the Pax television network, a Bullhead City, Arizona airport and the Mojave Country Airport Authority is scheduled to go to trial Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Zelnick claims he suffered physical injury and emotional distress as a result of a June 15, 2001 prank filmed for the show. The prank occurred when Funt, posing as an airport security official instructed Zelnick to climb atop an authentic-looking, but phony, X-ray scanner machine (though identical in appearance to scanners reserved for carry-on luggage, the fake did not emit real rays). Zelnick claims he was left physically bruised and with a puncture in his leg from a pen as a result of the conveyor belt ride. The complaint includes claims for battery, negligence, false imprisonment, misrepresentation, and infliction of emotional distress.

Ex-Coach Sues Sports Illustrated

Former Alabama football coach Mike Price filed suit against Time Inc. for $20 million Friday, alleging that he was defamed by a Sports Illustrated article concerning the the strip club visit that led to his firing.

According to this report by the Washington Post [via Associated Press], Price contends that seven parts of the article were inaccurate, "including its report that Price had sex with two women in his hotel room after a visit to Arety's Angels strip club and used the phrase, 'It's rolling, baby,' during what the story called 'aggressive sex.'"

Sports Illustrated is standing by the story and has refused to run a retraction.

Price does admit that he went to the topless club during a night of bar hopping in Pensacola, and he says he got so drunk a woman had to ride back to the hotel with him in a cab and help him to his room. But he claims that he fell asleep and that no sex was involved.

Price was fired on May 3, 2003, about five days before the magazine was released for sale. Price is also appealing his dismissal.

Scholastic, Rowlings Rattle Sabres

Upset at pre-release reviews of the latest Harry Potter book, publisher Scholastic and author J.K. Rowlings have threatened legal action against USA Today and the Associated Press. Last week Scholastic and Rowlings filed a $100 million copyright infringement and tortious interference with contract suit against the New York Daily News. Shouldn't they be busy counting their money? [coverage via New York Daily News here] [prior related post here]

Dallas Observer Wins Summary Judgment

A three-judge panel of Texas' 5th District Court of Appeals has reversed the trial court and granted the Dallas Observer summary judgment in a libel suit brought by restaurateur Dale Wamstad. Wamstad had sued over a March 16, 2000 profile headlined: "Family Man: Dallas restaurateur Dale Wamstad portrays himself as humble entrepreneur and devoted father. The family he abandoned in New Orleans has a bone to pick with that." Guess which part he didn't like.

The court found that Wamstad was a public figure "noting Wamstad's history of flamboyant appearances in various media, both over his business practices and his former marriage to Lena Rumore Waddell." Waddell was tried in New Orleans at one point for shooting Wamstad but claimed self-defense and was acquitted. [coverage via Dallas Observer here] [opinion here]

Friday, June 20, 2003

New York Appellate Court Upholds Spike TV Injunction -- Next Stop, Court of Appeals

A five-member panel of New York's Appellate Division refused to undo the preliminary injunction entered by Justice Walter Tolub last week. The panel scheduled a hearing before a full appellate bench for the first week in September. [coverage via CNN here]

Marty at The Trademark Blog wants your comments.

Marty also has the lowdown on today's decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit dismissing Tiger Woods' trademark and right of publicity claims against an artist who had included Woods' image in a lithograph entitled "Masters of Augusta." [post here with picture] [decision here]

Philadelphia Daily News Settles Judge's Libel Suit

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports here that a lawsuit filed by Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Alan K. Silberstein against the Philadelphia Daily News has been settled mid-trial. According to the report, "Silberstein agreed to dismiss his case, and the Daily News agreed that its insurance company would pay his legal fees, costs and other expenses."

Silberstein's case arose out of a 1997 report concerning the investigation following the 1996 suicide of court administrator Kevin Murray. Murray apparently killed himself after a woman who worked as a contractor for the courts told police he had forced her to perform oral sex on him. Silberstein, then Municipal Court president judge, subsequently investigated the woman and her sexual behavior. [Philadelphia Daily News' statement here] [via Romenesko]

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Rowlings and Scholastic Sue Daily News Over Potter Story

Author J.K. Rowlings and publisher Scholastic have filed a copyright infringement and tortious interference with contract suit against the New York Daily News over an article concerning the yet to be published next installment of the Harry Potter series. The Daily News says it purchased the book from a grocery store in Brooklyn, whose proprietor was apparently unaware of the cloak of secrecy surrounding the book's release. The copyright claim is premised upon the Daily News' publication of a photograph of the opened book as well as "plot elements and character details that go to the heart of Rowlings' as yet-unpublished work." [coverage via Washington Post here] [complaint via FindLaw here]

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

The Latest on Spike

Media Life Magazine reports here on Viacom's efforts to get a New York State appellate court panel to lift the preliminary injunction order entered against the company last week. According to the report, Viacom claims it has already lost $17 million and that its $30 million rebranding campaign and $100 million in commitments from advertisers hang in the balance. [prior posts here, here and here]

Pour Speling and Grammer Helps Defendnat in Liable Suit

The Wall Street Journal reports here that U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer of the Northern District of California has ruled that a message board poster's "haphazard writing style made it unlikely that any Yahoo Inc. [message board] readers who saw the postings would take them seriously." As a result, the Court denied plaintiff Mark Cohodes' efforts to force Yahoo to turn over the identity of the anonymous poster, known only as "Harry." [prior related post here]

Especially If You're The Times

On Monday, The New York Times published an article describing the efforts that network news departments have made to gain exclusive access to former P.O.W. Jessica Lynch for an interview. In particular, the article focused on CBS News' supposed synergistic approach to landing Lynch -- "dangling" the prospects of various movie, book and television deals through CBS News' parent Viacom.

On Tuesday, CBS News fired back in a letter playing the Blair card to the hilt, "Unlike the New York Times' own ethical problems, there is no question about the accuracy or integrity of CBS News' reporting." [report via Washington Post here]

This Blair Thing's Going to Sting For A While

The Washington Post reports here that a West Virginia jury has returned a $10 million libel verdict against WVIR-TV (Channel 29) of Charlottesville, Virginia. While the case itself involved allegations that WVIR defamed auto-repairman Jesse Sheckler, by reporting that cocaine was seized from his home and auto-repair business, the spectre of the recent Jayson Blair scandal was in the air as Sheckler's attorney made repeated references to Blair throughout the trial. Defense attorneys claim that Blair was only mentioned to inflame the jury against the media. WVIR's attorneys have asked the court to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial.

Council of Europe Proposing Internet Right of Reply

Declan McCullagh of cNet reports here that the Council of Europe (an influential quasi-governmental body) is considering adotping a resolution requiring that "Internet news organizations, individual Web sites, moderated mailing lists and even Web logs (or "blogs"), must offer a 'right of reply' to those who have been criticized by a person or organization." McCullagh explains why this is a bad idea. [thanks to Marty for the heads up]

Now Who's Gonna File My Returns?

Judge Lloyd D. George of U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada has ruled that tax adviser, Irwin Schiff, can no longer give tax advice, prepare tax returns or sell Mr. Schiff's book, "The Federal Mafia: How the Federal Government Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Federal Income Taxes." The book argues that income taxes are voluntary and that people can lawfully escape them by filing tax returns listing no income.

In reaching its decision, the Court found that Mr. Schiff and his associates knew that they "are offering fraudulent tax advice" and that the book is false commercial speech which "is not protected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not shield criminal conduct in tax schemes."

According to The New York Times, "the A.C.L.U., the American Booksellers Association, American Publishers Association, American Library Association and PEN, the writers' group, filed a friend of the court brief opposing any restriction on sales of the book as prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment guarantees of free speech. They took no position on the validity of Mr. Schiff's tax advice." [report via New York Times here]

On Second Thought . . .

Editor & Publisher reports here that inventor Paul C. Heckel has dropped a patent infringement lawsuit against a dozen small newspapers, which he claimed violated his patent for a linking technology. According to the report, Heckel claims he will refile his suit "once his company, Quickview Systems, which owns the patent, returns to good standing." E&P's report suggests that Heckel's decision to sue smaller newspapers may have backfired as one of his targets is owned by Lee Enterprises, Inc., the 12th largest newspaper company in the country. [prior related post here]

Friday, June 13, 2003

It's Gotta Be The Shoes!! Spike Lee Enjoins Spike TV

Yesterday, New York State Supreme Court Judge Walter Tolub granted Spike Lee's request to preliminarily enjoin Viacom from changing the name of the TNN cable channel to "Spike TV" pending trial of the action. While Viacom argued that Lee cannot prove their network's new name refers to him, the Judge Tolub disagreed, stating, "Contrary to defendants' position, the court is of the opinion that in the age of mass communication, a celebrity can in fact establish a vested right in the use of only their first name or a surname. There are many celebrities that are so recognized, including Cher, Madonna, Sting and Liza."

According to this report in Media Life Magazine, "the judge will listen to the substance of Lee's arguments at a hearing scheduled for June 23."

[coverage via CNN here] [prior related posts here and here]


Time to Go to the Track . . .

As predicted in this post from February 27, 2003, New York's state legislature passed a bill Thursday that would make it a felony to take salacious pictures of unsuspecting victims. Additionally, the bill provides that people who disseminate, publish or sell secret images of the intimate parts of another person's body would face criminal penalties. Their names and addresses would also be entered in the state's sex offender registry.

Governor Pataki is expected to sign the bill shortly. [coverage via CNN here]

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Kooshed!

Lucille DeBellis, a 71-year-old retired police officer, filed a $3 million suit on June 11, 2003 against Warner Bros. Television and AOL Time Warner, the producers of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." DeBellis claims she was injured when she was hit in the mouth with a Koosh Ball that was allegedly launched into the audience by a show staffer during the warm-up for a November 2001 taping of the show. [report via Media Life here]

Doe! Fourth Circuit Dismisses Privacy Action

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has dismissed a fraudulent misrepresentation, invasion of privacy, and reckless or intentional infliction of emotional distress suit brought against The Associated Press for allegedly improperly revealing the name of a sexual assualt victim who appeared in open court to deliver a victim impact statement at the sentencing hearing of his attacker. Plaintiff alleged that despite the sentencing court's order to the reporters present not to identify any sexual assault victims in press accounts of the sentencing, AP published plaintiff’s name[which plaintiff himself stated in open court], identifying him as a sexual assault victim and disseminating the report to newspapers around the country. Doe v. The Associated Press, No. 02-1965 (4th Cir. June 11, 2003) [opinion here] [more via Volokh here and How Appealing here]

In reaching its decision, the Fourth Circuit measured the plaintiff's claims against two possible branches of the four invasion of privacy torts -- public disclosure of private facts and intrusion. With respect to the private facts claim, the court stated, "[w]e cannot understand how the voluntary disclosure of information in an unrestricted, open courtroom setting could be anything but
a matter of public interest." As for the intrusion claim, the court stated, "the AP reporter was where he had a perfect right to be. A viewer in plain sight on a courtroom bench who listens to the public testimony of a witness in open court can hardly be described as 'spying' or 'intruding' like an illicit eavesdropper."

Ultimately the court held, "Plaintiff may have successfully alleged poor judgment on the part of the AP, but he has not made out a case of tortious conduct under South Carolina law," and affirmed the dismissal of the case.

Iowa Supreme Court Confirms - Satan Still Wicked

The Iowa Supreme Court has reinstated a libel suit filed by Jane Kliebenstein against a Methodist church in Shell Rock, Iowa and the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church. Ms. Kliebenstein claims that a letter written by Rev. Jerrold Swinton, then a district supervisor for the Iowa Conference, alleged that the "spirit of Satan" [apparently in the form of Ms. Kliebenstein, who had differing views with respect to a church pastor] was at work in the congregation.

While the court acknowledged that judges cannot interfere in matters of faith and internal church discipline, that fact that the letter "was published outside the congregation weakens the shield."

With respect to the issues of defamatory meaning and the defendants' argument that the existence of Satan was "beyond the purview of the courts," the Court held: "Perusing a standard dictionary convinces us that the term used by church officials to describe Jane Kliebenstein has religious roots but also carries a common and largely unflattering secular meaning. We conclude from these definitions that the phrase 'spirit of Satan' has meaning in a secular as well as sectarian context." [report via CNN here] [opinion here]

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Don't Try This At Home - Part IV

The St. Louis Post Dispatch [story via The Mercury News here] reports that authorities in St. Louis are seeking the author of a website providing instructions on how to commit suicide so that they can charge the individual with voluntary manslaughter. On June 2, 2003, a 52-year-old woman killed herself apparently following the instructions from the website on how to asphyxiate oneself with helium.

According to the report, "Under [Missouri] state law, voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person knowingly assists another in the commission of self-murder. It is a felony punishable by five to 15 years in prison."

The report also describes a case filed against now-defunct asphyxiation.com, which is charged with negligently contributing to a 21-year-old woman's suicide in February 2001 -- "the young woman died of a self-inflicted hanging, her computer still logged onto the Web site, which detailed how to perform the act."

The boyfriend of the St.Louis woman claimed that while she "had a history of clinical depression . . . she would not have known how to use helium to kill herself without the site's instruction."

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse -- Times' '32 Pulitzer Under Review

As if Jayson Blair, Rick Bragg, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd weren't enough, the AP reports here [via The New York Times] that the Pulitzer Prize Board is reviewing its decision to award a prize in 1932 to a correspondent for The Times who has been accused of ignoring a forced famine in Ukraine that killed millions. The Prize was given to Walter Duranty "who covered the Soviet Union for The Times from 1922 to 1941, earning acclaim for an exclusive 1929 interview with Stalin." Recently scholars have accused Duranty of being aware of the famine but ignoring it in his coverage in order to maintain his close ties to Stalin.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

102-Year-Old Sues Over 1921 Editorial

Editor & Publisher reports here that a suit has recently been filed claiming that a story and a rumored editorial published in the May 31, 1921 edition of the Tulsa Tribune sparked the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma race riot. The suit was filed on behalf of Rosella Carter, 102, and her son, James Dale Carter, 84, survivors of the riot. While the Tulsa Tribune has been defunct since 1992, the suit names the Tulsa World and the family of the deceased publisher of the Tribune.

A 1999 Kansas City Star article [here], which discussed Tulsa's re-examination of the events surrounding the riot, describes the circumstances surrounding the mysterious editorial:

The front page of the May 31 Tulsa Tribune carried the headline "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator."

This article and a mysterious back-page editorial in the late edition, which allegedly called for a lynching, have become central to the riot probe. Both were neatly torn out before the Tribune microfilmed its back issues for posterity. Researchers uncovered the front-page story years ago, but they never found the inflammatory editorial, if one existed.

"It's the Holy Grail of the race riot," says Heath Henry, Tulsa Historical Society archivist.

Minutes after the afternoon paper hit the streets, a white mob showed up at the courthouse, where Rowland was held. Turn him over, they said. Sheriff Willard McCullough refused.

Don't Try This At Home - Part III

AP via The Sacramento Bee reports here that authorities are blaming car racing movie "2 Fast 2 Furious" for a recent high speed crash that left a 78-year-old man dead. Police claim that Vahan V. Shahenian, who had just seen the movie, "was traveling nearly 100 mph on a residential street Sunday when his 2002 Nissan Altima broadsided a car driven by Keiji Iko, who died instantly."

Shahenian, who only suffered a broken arm, claims he was driving the speed limit.

Blink?

Media Life reports here that Rosie O'Donnell approached magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr with a settlement offer that would involve both parties dropping their dueling breach of contract lawsuits and a payment to O'Donnell of "$4 million in legal fees [Ed. -- !!!!!!!] and a donation to charity equivalent to O'Donnell's initial $6 million investment in the Rosie partnership."

G+J launched "Rosie" in March 2001 as a completely revamped version of McCall’s. While the magazine initially fared well, newstand sales dropped off and then things got ugly. O'Donnell reportedly walked out after G+J made a change in editors. Thereafter, G+J filed a $100 million breach of contract suit, to which O'Donnell responded by filing her own $125 million breach of contract and defamation action.

According to the report, G+J let pass a June 2 deadline for a response to the offer and issued a statement: “G+J does not intend to litigate its dispute with Rosie O'Donnell in the media. G+J believes that the issues raised in this litigation are more appropriately addressed in court.”

Monday, June 09, 2003

It's Alive! It's Alive!

Gawker reports that Redbook has apparently been working late in the Photoshop lab again, slicing and dicing the images of its cover models. Last month Jennifer Aniston was reportedly miffed over a purported composite image that gave her an disproportionately large head. This month it's Julia Roberts. Check the cover photos here.

"60 Minutes" Report Gives Rise to Two Libel Suits

The Associated Press is reporting that a May 4, 2003 "60 Minutes" report entitled, "The Terrorist Hunter," has led to the filing of two libel suits.

The first suit, filed on June 5, was brought by two Virginia-based Muslim charities, Heritage Education Trust and SAFA Trust. The charities claim that they were defamed when the report showed a disguised woman standing outside an office building in Herndon, Virginia, she claimed was "the heart of a terrorist funding ring." The plaintiffs allege that the woman is the director of the Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Institute, a private terrorism watchdog organization, and that the building is owned by the Heritage Education Trust. According to the AP report, "the office was one of several sites raided by federal authorities in a March 2002 sweep in northern Virginia and Georgia. No arrests have resulted from the probe, coordinated by the Treasury Department to cut off potential sources of terrorism funding." The suit, which also names CBS correspondent Bob Simon and SITE as defendants, seeks $80 million in damages. [AP's report via Washington Post here] [additional coverage via Washington Post here]

In the second suit, Gainesville, Georgia-poultry company Mar-Jac Poultry Inc. claims the segment implied that it funnels money to terrorists. According to AP, Mar-Jac Poultry Inc. "was searched by U.S. Customs agents in March 2002 for possible connections to terrorism, but [] was never accused of wrongdoing." The suit seeks unspecified damages.

The Smoking Gun Gets Another

CNN.com reports here on the success that The Smoking Gun has had in uncovering some of the less-than-flattering secrets surrounding television's reality stars.

Looks like they got another one today -- reporting here that "For Love or Money" "prize" Rob Campos was expelled from his Judge Advocate General (JAG) unit "after he drunkenly groped the breasts of a Navy officer after barging uninvited into the woman's dormitory room early one morning."

You Know Where There Is Cat?

Julie Hilden of Findlaw's Writ writes on the Spike Lee v. Viacom case here. While Ms. Hilden discusses right of publicity claims, Lee actually claimed a violation of New York's misappropriation statute. I hope to discuss the differences in greater detail later. [prior related post here]

Meanwhile, Spike Lee was in court today trying to enjoin Viacom's proposed name change for TNN. The judge promised a decision by June 16. [coverage here] [via Gawker]

Thursday, June 05, 2003

FBI Finds Package Grab "Less Than Prudent"

The Associated Press reports here that the FBI has "has criticized several of its employees for not seeking advice from bureau managers before handling material that had been seized while being mailed between two Associated Press reporters." [via First Amendment Center] [prior related post here]

Tumult at the Times

Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald M. Boyd have resigned.

More here at CNN.com.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Clinton Book Blitz Spoiled by AP Leak?

Drudge links to this Washington Post report that Simon & Schuster may be considering legal action against the Associated Press for reporting on the revelations in Hilary Clinton's forthcoming memoir "Living History." While the book is not scheduled to be released until next week, AP ran a story yesterday that quoted the book extensively. According to the report, AP spokesman Jack Stokes said the agency had not broken the law and "obtained the book through good old-fashioned reporting."

Maybe His "Quote" Key Was Stuck

The New York Times reports here that Little Brown has recalled "Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb," by Brian VanDeMark, concerning the the creation of the atomic bomb, from bookstores after "four authors complained that more than 30 uncredited passages in it were identical or nearly identical to passages in their works." Notably, one of the complaining authors was Robert S. Norris, who had been asked by The Times to review the book and discovered passages without quotation marks similar to those in his book "Racing for the Bomb."

Baltimore County Prosecutor Files $10M Libel Claim

The Boston Globe reports here that Marc Mandel, a Baltimore County, Maryland prosecutor, has filed a $10 million libel suit against The Boston Phoenix newspaper and its website over an article about custody battles that involve child abuse claims that included a description of allegations that Mandel had abused children from two different marriages. According to the the Globe's report "Mandel and his estranged wife are involved in a complex custody and divorce case that has involved courts from Maryland to Massachusetts," and that Mandel "has been awarded custody of the two young children from his second marriage."

The Globe article also notes that Mandel attorneys will, despite Mandel's public official status, argue that he should be treated as private figure for purposes of the lawsuit. [via Romenesko]

Defamation Claim Against Former Los Alamos Scientist Dismissed

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has, in an unpublished decision, dismissed a defamation claim brought by Notra Trulock, a former Department of Energy official, against former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was investigated for allegedly mishandling documents relating to nuclear weapons. Trulock had alleged that Lee and two other government officials defamed him when they alleged that Trulock's role in the inverstigation of Lee was motivated by racial bias. The U.S. Government ultimately invoked the "state secrets privilege" and the court agreed that the case could not go forward without use of the privileged information, mandating dismissal of the lawsuit. [opinion here]

More on the case from SW Virgina Law Blog here.

Lee v. Viacom: A Spike Lee Joint

Spike Lee has sued Viacom over its recent decision to rename its "TNN" cable channel, "SPIKE TV." Lee filed the claim in New York state court and alleges claims for misappropriation, unfair trade practices, unfair competition and false advertising and is seeking, among other things, to enjoin the name change. [complaint via The Smoking Gun here] [coverage via CNN here]

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Bikini Model Sues Playboy Over Mansion Party Video

Adult Video News reports here that bikini model and two-time Hooters Regional Bikini Champion, Jennifer Whitney, has filed a claims for invasion of privacy, fraud and unjust enrichment against Playboy and Hugh Hefner.

Whitney claims that that she was videotaped naked at an "artistic body painting promotion" at the Playboy Mansion and unwittingly wound up on the cover of a videotape called "Playboy Mansion Parties, Hottest Moments and Body Painting." Whitney, who claims she never gave Playboy permission to use her name or likeness, alleges that "The (video) misleads viewers into thinking that all of the girls from the artistic body painting promotion, such as Ms. Whitney, were attending a pornographic lesbian party."

Warning: Unless you have a job like mine, links may not be safe for work!

Eighth Circuit Holds Violence is Not Obscenity

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has struck down a St. Louis ordinance that "makes it unlawful for any person knowingly to sell, rent, or make available graphically violent video games to minors, or to 'permit the free play of' graphically violent video games by minors, without a parent or guardian’s consent." [decision here] [prior related post here] [via How Appealing]

Pam Anderson Did the Same Thing to Me...

Adam Liptak of the New York Times had an interesting article yesterday [here] about the acrimonious state of affairs between Internet personality Tucker Max and former Miss Vermont Katy Johnson. After dating briefly, Ms. Johnson was none too pleased with the "blow-by-blow" account of their relationship posted by Mr. Max on his website and went to Court to get Mr. Max to stop. Judge Diana Lewis of Circuit Court in West Palm Beach ruled, apparently ex parte, that Mr. Max could not write about Ms. Johnson, could not use the words "Katy," "Miss Johnson," or "Miss Vermont," could not disclose any "stories, facts or information, notwithstanding its truth, about any intimate or sexual acts engaged in" by Miss Johnson, and could no longer link to her site.

Mr. Max's attorneys have indicated that they will soon seek to have the Court withdraw the order and dismiss the case. As the article notes, its pretty rare and downright scary (as Kevin of TLA notes) that you can be prohibited from discussing accurate facts about your own personal life.

Further coverage: MSNBC.com's WebLog Central discusses the case, and drops in a nice link to Kevin's TLA post on the "off the record" controversy concerning the recent D: All Things Digital technology conference.

Don't Try This At Home - Part II

Julie Hilden of Findlaw's Writ discusses the potential culpability of the media for copycat crimes here. [prior related post here]

In other news, CNN reports here that a 13-year-old boy was arrested for pouring boiling water on a sleeping friend and videotaping the incident for his own private "Jackass: The Movie."

Monday, June 02, 2003

Yeah, But Have You Tried Them With Ketchup?

CNN reports here that McDonald's Italy has filed suit against Edoardo Raspelli, a well-known Italian food critic, for saying McDonald's "burgers taste of rubber and its fries of cardboard." Raspelli claims to have received a lot of support for his comments from the Italian "slow food" movement and calls the suit "the usual, very American effort to destroy criticism and destroy people."

Interestingly, according to the report McDonald's is claiming that Raspelli statements are "clearly defamatory and offensive to McDonald's and to the more than 600,000 Italians who each day freely choose to eat in a McDonald's restaurant."

California Supreme Court Dismisses Winter Brothers Case

Updating a prior post [here], the California Supreme Court has dismissed the right of publicity claims brought by musician brothers, Johnny and Edgar Winter, against DC Comics. The Winter brothers had alleged that the comic publisher's use two "villainous half-worm, half-human" characters called Johnny and Edgar Autumn misappropriated their images in violation of California Civil Code section 3344.

The court noted that because the drawings of the plaintiffs were "distorted for purposes of lampoon, parody or caricature," the Autumn brothers, as depicted in the comic book series, contained "significant creative elements that transform them into something more than mere celebrity likenesses" and entitled the "fanciful, creative characters" to First Amendment protection.

[opinion here]

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