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”

John Gilmore on Taking ‘Secret Laws’ to SCotUS

What is a “secret law?

This question is the foundation of a cert petition filed (.pdf) with the U.S. Supreme Court recently.

I spoke with John Gilmore on a drive from San Francisco to LA last week, and discussed the objectives and background of the case, which originated in 2002 as a challenge against the unwritten law requiring one to show identification in airports. Click here to download the interview (36.1mb MP3, 26min15sec). Click at bottom to play. Continue reading “John Gilmore on Taking ‘Secret Laws’ to SCotUS”