Friday, March 22, 2019

Protesting Funerals Emotionally Harmful

Whoever said “I’ll rest when I’m dead” never heard of the Topeka Westboro Baptist Church. Church members have taken it upon themselves to celebrate the death of U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq war by protesting in front of funeral events of the dead soldier. “Their message: The death of soldiers in Iraq is God’s vengeance against America for tolerating homosexuality.”

The father of the fallen soldier was so outraged that he decided to file a lawsuit against the church in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland Northern Division, basing his complaint not so much on restrictions of free speech but rather on intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. After the jury awarded the fallen soldier’s family $2.9 million, with an additional $8 million in punitive damages, God appealed! Furthermore, the interesting factor in this case hinges on the role video documentation plays for both parties (for defendant proof that hate of gays is part of its religion; for plaintiff that Church’s speech is emotionally harmful), and of course the Church’s free speech claim. Read more here.


Corporation Infringes Copyright, Ordered to Pay $19,000

Perhaps due to the new moon, on Friday, February 15, Stock photographer Chris Gregerson won a copyright infringement lawsuit against two corporations, both owned by the same individual. Incidentally, Gregerson appeared in court pro se (without an attorney).


(one of the stolen images)

Gregerson writes: “Vilana Financial and Vilana Realty used the two photos, taken unlawfully from this website, in a series of advertisements. Vilana sued me for defamation when I claimed they were guilty of copyright infringement (a court ruled they are). They added six more causes of action, including appropriation of name and likeness for posting Vilenchik’s photo on this page. Andrew Vilenchik, the owner of both corporations, swore at trial he got the photos from a stranger he met in a sauna (the judge ruled this was a lie). A trial was held in November, 2007, and the verdict was issued on February 15th, 2008. I won, they lost, and I was awarded $19,462.00 in damages. All their claims against me were dismissed with prejudice.”


Balancing Act , A Project by Christoph Büchel

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Judge Shuts Down Website

A U.S. District Court judge ordered, an institutional critique type of website, to shut down its site and not transfer its domain name to another host. Judge Jeffrey White, in an apparent gross misinterpration of the First Amendment and prior restraint law, infuriated many legal scholars, free speech activists and web site owners when he sided with a Cayman Islands bank, The Bank Julius Baer & Co. Judge White agreed with the bank that Wikileaks should be barred from posting corporate documents that clearly exhibit unethical behavior.

Commenting on this unprecedented ruling, David Arcadia, an Internet speech expert from Harvard Law, said that a court had never before ordered an entire Web site to shut down. “This is prior restraint in the most extreme fashion,” he concluded.

For more on this, click here.


Government Owns Copyright of Public Documents

Although mostly known for college football, West Virginia brings us a case of major First Amendment and intellectual property import, which if upheld may find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the Kanawha County Tax Assessor asked the West Virginia Circuit Court of Kanawha County to force Seneca Technologies to remove maps Seneca Technologies had posted on its website. These maps are the complete county property tax maps for the state of West Virginia. Seneca had paid to obtain these maps from the West Virginia State Department of Tax and Revenue after Seneca won a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. Seneca is providing these maps on its website free of charge instead of the $8 per map that all West Virginia tax assessors charge.

The County Tax assessor claims that Seneca is posting copyrighted material. Seneca counters by arguing that the maps “convey only facts and not ideas or expressions.” Buttressing this argument, Seneca argues that the Tax Assessor’s attempt to bar the internet posting of these public documents is an unconstitutional prior restraint of free speech.

Arguing for Seneca on February 8th is Public Citizen.


The Art of Redacting

Confirming our suspicion that there is a bit of art in law, an article on the crafting necessary to redact information on privileged documents has just appeared. It makes sense, especially when one thinks of the drawings and paintings of Ellsworth Kelly and Blinky Palermo, as well as the photographs of John Baldessari.

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Judge Rules for Child Porn Collage

Citing the 2002 ruling of Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, the New Hampshire State Supreme Court ruled that sexual images a camp photographer created by combining the faces of teenage girls with women’s bodies are not child pornography.

This ruling overturned the child-pornography conviction of Marshal Zidel, who was sentenced in June 2006 to up to seven years in prison. Zidel, 61, of Somerville, Mass., was a photographer at Camp Young Judea in Amherst, where authorities say he superimposed pictures of 15-year-old girls onto images of naked adults.

The court ruled the pictures do not violate child pornography laws, partly because they did not involve sexual acts by actual children, and partly because they were not deliberately distributed. “When no part of the image is ‘the product of sexual abuse’ … and a person merely possesses the image, no demonstrable harm results to the child whose face is depicted in the image,” Associate Justice James Duggan wrote for the court.

The First Amendment Center has more on this story. For more on virtual child pornography, click here.


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