Free Speech Victory in Minnesota

On August 20, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the district court verdict in Moore v. Hoff. This was a strange case but ultimately the question turned on whether the First Amendment protects true statements that cause someone to be fired. We won at trial on the issue of defamation, but the jury returned a verdict that essentially said that what Mr. Hoff wrote on his blog was true, but it interfered with Jerry Moore’s employment contract.

Tortious interference is the tort that involves interfering with someone else’s contract. But to be “tortious,” it the interference has to be wrongful. We successfully argued that no matter what the result, telling the truth about a public figure is protected speech and therefore it can’t be “tortious.” The Court of Appeals agreed with us that the jury’s tortious verdict violated existing tortious interference case law and the First Amendment.

This was a big first for me in several respects. It was my first jury trial, my first appeal, and my first case that attracted any media attention. Most trademark, copyright, or business matters don’t attract attention and don’t go to trial. I also took the case just a few weeks before trial. The appeal would not have been successful without the support and help of others, especially my co-counsel Mark Anfinson and counsel for the amicus parties, John Borger. Both of them had substantially more First Amendment experience and I needed every bit of help I could get.

The opinion is here.
The post that started it all is still online at The Adventures of Johnny Northside.

UPDATE: The case now has a reporter number and can be cited as Moore v. Hoff, 821 N.W.2d 591 (Minn. Ct. App. 2012).


FCC Tweets Baseball Updates To Avoid Blackouts

Those disclaimers spoken on Major League Baseball broadcasts, you know:

“Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this game, without the express written consent of Major League Baseball, is prohibited,”

Well, after Fox and Cablevision couldn’t agree and blackouts during the playoffs ensued, the FCC stepped in with Twitter updates of the games in progress. Its not particularly interesting that someone would tweet about baseball games. I’ve checked the #twins hashtag on Twitter during a Twins just to see what other people think of the game. That the FCC would do it, more interesting. I’m fairly certain that MLB won’t sue the FCC, partly because facts, such as what’s the score aren’t copyrightable (not withstanding the “account of this game” language).

H/T to Consumerist


Is Libel Online Going Away?

I found two interesting articles this weekend on the topic of libel online. The first is a post by Daniel Solove talking about the slow demise of privacy torts as well as libel and slander. The most interesting point to me was that the New York Times currently does not have any libel cases pending right now, whereas they used to have several at any given time.

Is Libel really going away? The next post made me think not. This one is a story of police officer is suing YouTube over parody videos of him. Apparently he was caught on video being particularly aggressive with a protester armed with bubbles. Yes, bubbles. He isn’t a public figure, but I don’t think any of the videos were doing anything beyond commenting on the reasonableness of his behavior.

I won’t comment on the merits of the case but I think its probably more representative of a growing type of libel case and why the lack of libel suits against the NYT probably doesn’t mean that libel is going away. With more people publishing there is more nasty stuff published, and probably more lawsuits. Professor Solove’s broader point was that we still should have access to justice for libel. I think we will, but the nature of the likely defendant is probably changing.


Don’t Let Your Business Decisions Be Clouded By Rumors

“Mark Twain famously said that a lie can go around the world while truth is still putting on its boots.”

MinnPost has a great article with lessons businesses can learn from the Shirley Sherrod story. Cooler heads and actual evidence should have prevailed in the first place.


Why I Volunteered for the EFF

A group called the U.S. Copyright Group (USCG) has filed a lawsuit against thousands of as yet unknown people who may (or may not) have downloaded or uploaded movies on file sharing networks. The strategy, which has been employed by others in the past, is to file or threaten to file a lawsuit and then offer to settle for a few thousand. Defending a copyright lawsuit will almost certainly cost much more so the offer is tempting. Plus, copyright law allows statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work, so the potential risk can be severe.

One problem with employing this strategy on the scale that the USCG is doing is that it will almost certainly result in a large number wrongly identified people who feel compelled to pay up because its cheaper than fighting. It undermines rights to privacy and anonymity. Furthermore, it doesn’t get to the real issue of how to compensate artists for their work. Lawsuits can’t possibly be a realistic long-term business model.

As far as I know, the USCG only has a large list of suspect IP addresses and is currently attempting to obtain the identities of people so they can give them the pay up or go to court offer. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a resource for people who are faced with responding to a subpoena and would like advice with responding. I have volunteered to work with people in Minnesota who are faced with this situation. There are other attorneys in other states who have volunteered as well.

The EFF Subpoena Defense Attorney List
The EFF’s press release about the case.


But. . . they did it on TV: What Glee teaches about copyright

The fictional high school chorus at the center of Fox’s Glee has a huge problem — nearly a million dollars in potential legal liability. For a show that regularly tackles thorny issues like teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse, it’s surprising that a million dollars worth of lawbreaking would go unmentioned. But it does, and week after week, those zany Glee kids rack up the potential to pay higher and higher fines.

Check out the rest of Christina Mulligan’s post at Balkanization.


FCC Launches Spectrum Dashboard

The FCC has created a tool that allows people to quickly see how spectrum is allocated. You can use a map to find all the licensees in a particular county or state. All this is particularly interesting now as there is currently some interest in reallocating spectrum that was used for television broadcast and allowing more wireless broadband services.

FCC Spectrum Dashboard

HT to the CommLawBlog.


Sunshine Week is March 14-20

“Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.” See more information at www.sunshineweek.org
Your Right To Know


What is Theft?

I found this article by Chris Hartman amusing because the word “theft” is used so frequently outside of its literal legal definition. The article searches Google for instances when people write “_______ is theft” with the rankings shown below.

Its a brilliant example of how people distort the truth by using a vague or general definition of a word with a lot of emotional weight. Like “theft.” When you use a word like “theft” to mean any general sort of taking or use of a right, it ceases to mean theft. Its also interesting to note that publishers appear four times in that list, including the top spot, but in none of those cases do they mean actual theft. Infringement is bad, but its also hard to conceptualize. Theft is immediate and visceral.

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.


Corporate campaign litigation comes to Minnesota

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has filed suit to in the wake of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. At stake is to what extent the State of Minnesota can continue to regulate corporate expenditures on campaign advertising. Here is the article which includes a link to the complaint.