Internet Libel OK’d by Courts

UPDATE: Comprehensive coverage of blogger reaction to the Barrett v. Rosenthal decision at CJR.

Always nice to see Internet legislation shot down in the courts — in this case, the California Supreme Court ruled that allowing prosecution of name-calling and online flame wars by third parties would lead to an uncontrollable number of ridiculous lawsuits.

The L.A. Times reports:

“The prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications,” Justice Carol Corrigan wrote for the court. But, she added, immunity “serves to protect online freedom of expression and to encourage self-regulation.”

[…]

The court explained that Internet defamation law differs from that of other media.

“Book, newspaper or magazine publishers are liable for defamation on the same basis as authors,” Corrigan wrote. “Book sellers, news vendors or other ‘distributors’ … may only be held liable if they knew or had reason to know of a publication’s defamatory content.”

Congress “chose to protect even the most active Internet publishers, those who take an aggressive role in republishing third-party content,” she wrote.

[…]

She said the threat of liability also would reduce the flow of ideas on the Internet. “The volume and range of Internet communications make the ‘heckler’s veto’ a real threat,” Corrigan said.

The defendant, Ilene Rosenthal of the Humantics Foundation, blogs here. The case was brought by the erstwhile thugs known as the Quackbusters.

Here is EFF’s FAQ on Online Defamation.

Wikipedia entry on the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

* Discussion @ /.

Universal Goes After Bank of America for U2 “One” Parody

How broke-ass will UMG and their copyright hounds get? Maria Aspan @ The New York Times tackles this hilarity:

A video of two Bank of America employees singing a version of U2’s “One” to commemorate their company’s acquisition of MBNA recently made the rounds of the blogs, prompting amusement and some ridicule from online viewers.

But the intended comic effect of their performance and the retooled lyrics (“One spirit, we get to share it/Leading us all to higher standards”) seemed lost on lawyers on the lookout for copyright violations.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for the Universal Music Publishing Group, a catalog owner and administrator, posted the text of a cease-and-desist letter in the comments section of Stereogum.com, a Web site carrying the video. It contended that Bank of America had violated Universal’s copyright of the U2 song.

The two employees featured in the video were the guitarist, Jim Debois, a consumer market executive for Manhattan, and the singer, Ethan Chandler, a Manhattan banking center manager, who provoked much of the ridicule with his earnest interpretation and also for straying a bit far from U2’s lyrics with lines like “Integration has never had us feeling so good/and we’ll make lots of money.”

Mr. Chandler, who has independently released an album and is working on another, said he was asked to write and perform the song for an August meeting of credit card division executives at MBNA headquarters in Wilmington, Del.

He said he was surprised to learn about the cease-and-desist letter, stressing that his performance was meant for an internal audience. “There was an approved list of songs to use,” he said, “and as far I knew, that was an approved song.”

Universal said on Stereogum that it had sent the letter by fax and registered mail to Bank of America last Monday. On Friday, a bank spokeswoman, Betsy Weinberger, said the legal department had not yet received it.

The letter was signed by Raul R. Gonzalez, a lawyer for Universal Music. Reached at his office, Mr. Gonzalez said, “No comment” and hung up.

Online commentators accustomed to viral marketing said they suspected that the video was the latest corporate attempt to co-opt Internet video for promotional purposes. But Ms. Weinberger said it was “absolutely not” leaked by Bank of America as a marketing ploy.

Mr. Chandler also denied any involvement in leaking the video, although he admitted that, despite the cutting online criticism, the incident had an upside. “A lot of people thought it was fake, but I really do sing,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time.”

Continue reading “Universal Goes After Bank of America for U2 “One” Parody”

U.S. Media Jumps Gun on ‘Freed Hostages’ Report

Sometimes it’s so predictable that a local Iraqi provincial governor could be misinformed, overly optimistic, or fearing for his life when he releases a statement via AP such as:

“Police were able to free two of the foreigners kidnapped and they are in good health,” al-Waili said in a telephone interview. He said he thought they were Americans but could not yet confirm their nationality.

The wire copy ends by clarifying that U.S. officials could not confirm that statement, but apparently CNN, MSNBC, and everyone else failed to read that far before changing their headlines from 5 abducted (four Americans and one Austrian, who is reported killed – or perhaps one of the Americans was killed) to Police free 2 hostages.

Not so surprising, of course, a couple hours later when the revised AP copy reads:

A top Iraqi police official in Basra said none of the five kidnapped security company employees had been freed. He claimed the provincial governor, who announced the release of two of the hostages, had confused separate incidents in the region involving private security forces.

In the time it took me to write this — MSNBC has reverted back to the original headline but I was able to capture these screenshots from CNN and AOL. A big problem in Iraq reportingn that I have seen is the confusion regarding specific events (which can repeat themselves on a daily basis) and the time or day it occurred (Baghdad time is UTC+3, or 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles).

Therefore, when hostages are released — it cannot be assumed to be the same hostages. 14 contractors were abducted Thursday and it seems there is another group of contract security workers being mentioned, such as the reported killing of a British security guard. I can’t even follow these reports are so erratic, inconsistent and all over the place.

And let’s not forget that earlier this week, 150 Baghdad civilians were abducted and are being freed, tortured, killed and/or still held hostage.

Let’s get it on, fact-checkers and online news editors and break these headlines more responsibly!


UPDATE: After 2+ hours of making me nervous that I was blowing the story myself, CNN finally changed the story back to 5 hostages, none released, and blamed Iraq for the bad report despite the fact that they were the only government or news outlet continuing to claim that 2 hostages were freed…

Google Video Provocation

From the How-to-Inspire-Nuclear-Apocalypse-from-your-Laptop Dept:

via OgleEarth:

Somebody’s posted a video to Google Video that claims the Iranian city of Tabriz is actually in southern Azerbaijan. It’s a breezy but calculated insult, much like the doings of the Frenchman on the rampart in the Monty Python movie The Holy Grail.

But horrors, Iran’s government seems to have fallen hook, line and sinker for the video, and are now urging Iranians to vent their wrath on Google, reports the Guardian’s Tehran correspondent Robert Tait:

The text of a tourist film on the site has drawn accusations that the US-owned search engine is deliberately trying to undermine Iran’s territorial integrity by fomenting separatist sentiment in the mainly Turkish-speaking province.

(Why they don’t link to the video in the story is beyond me.)

Many seem not to be aware that Google Video hosts user-contributed content, so believe this must be a deliberate ploy by Google (including, incredibly, The Guardian’s Tait!). Others apparently think that it is Google’s job to censor all content anyone finds objectionable. Either way, this fracas will require that Google explain once again the workings of the internet to witless people in power, but at the same time it presents an opportunity for education on the principle of freedom of speech. The worst possible outcome? Google takes down the video.

(Data point: at 8:22 UTC, the video was downloaded 11,431 times after two days.)

LINK

Google and YOU

It’s hard to argue against the fact that Google has made the boldest moves in recent years regarding Internet-based applications, e-mail, etc.

But — as the company grows and strays from their original motto: “Do no evil,” is your personal information at risk?

Personally, I’d hate to be skeptical, but it’s a very reasonable question, especially as Dan Gillmor warns in response to this GOOG profile by Network World:

Google wants to make the information it stores for its users easily portable so they can export it to a competing service if they are dissatisfied, the company’s CEO said Tuesday.

What to look out for, Gillmor says, is:

Google will continue to reserve the right to keep the data you’ve stored in its servers forever, and use that data as it sees fit.

For all practical purposes, Google pretty much rules the world right now. It’s up to us to keep it from getting out of hand.

Or, maybe, we just shouldn’t have anything to hide?