Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

TV “indecency” case returns

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

The Obama Administration took back to the Supreme Court Thursday a major test case on the constitutionality of the government’s policy for regulating ”fleeting expletives” and scenes of nudity on television programs.  The petition for review, plus an appendix (a large file), is here.  The government also sent to the Court, with this letter, a copy of the TV crime show episode in which nudity was shown.  (The case is Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stationns, et al.; no docket number assigned yet.)

The Second Circuit Court, ruling last July — for a second time — in a case of words of profanity uttered by performers during two Fox TV awards shows, struck down the FCC’s “indecency” policy as a whole, finding it too vague to inform broadcasters of what was allowed, or not.  The Circuit Court then applied that ruling in a separate decision, involving scenes of a nude woman in an episode of “NYPD Blue.”

Read more.


EFF Welcomes New Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

EFF is very pleased to announce the newest staff attorney to join our legal team, Hanni Fakhoury. Hanni is an experienced criminal defense attorney, who will focus on the intersection of technology and criminal law and join our Coders' Rights Project, which protects programmers and developers engaged in technology innovation and research.

Prior to joining EFF, Hanni worked as a federal public defender in San Diego. In less than four years, he tried fourteen felony jury and bench trials and argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals four times, winning three reversals. While in law school, Hanni worked at the federal public defender's office in Sacramento, where he obtained acquittals in one jury trial and two bench trials.

We're excited to have someone with so much hands-on trial experience to help with the important criminal legal work we do at EFF. Security and encryption researchers help build a safer future for all of us using digital technologies, yet too many legitimate researchers face serious legal challenges that prevent or inhibit their work. Additionally, we are seeing increasing incursions into privacy rights with warrantless searches of digital devices and electronic records as well as efforts to stretch the ...

Dalai Lama’s Political Successor Elected

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011
Academic beats two other candidates to become new prime minister in exile.

Brown University on Full Disclosure (or Lack Thereof)

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Say you're accused of a heinous crime. If one of the main witnesses against youin a campus disciplinary matter with serious repercussions for your academic career as well as the rest of your lifejust happened to have your accuser's father as a career mentor, would you think that was relevant to disclose in a hearing or trial? Yeah, me too. But Brown University doesn't really care. A very interesting article in today's Brown Daily Herald explores the predicament of a student who was in just this position and is now suing Brown:

[The accused student's residential counselor's] nondisclosure of a potential source of bias does not violate any University rules governing disciplinary procedures. "There are no specific rules regarding disclosing relationships," wrote Jonah Allen Ward, senior associate dean of student life, in an email to The Herald, though he added that witnesses are expected to be truthful in their accounts.

Seems like a pretty big oversight, regardless of the offense, doesn't it? The fact that someone might stand to gain from giving a certain kind of testimony does not necessarily mean that the person will be untruthful, but it's highly relevant to the fact-finder when deciding ...

Rights Activist Threatened

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011
Chinese authorities shut down a human rights newsletter as the United States and China meet for talks.

Wired Talks Transmetropolitan Art Book

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

This May will see the release of the Transmetropolitan art book, which celebrates the visionary dystopian comic series by Warren Ellis and Darrick Robertson. Funded entirely by a Kickstarter donation drive, proceeds from the sale of the book benefit CBLDF and The Hero Initiative. has an exclusive preview of artwork from the book. They touched base with CBLDF about the project:

Transmetropolitan is one of those rare works that functions as a compelling genre story, perceptive science fiction and cutting social satire all at the same time,” said Charles Brownstein, executive director of Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, in an e-mail to “The series uses edgy, and sometimes taboo, topics to address the changes that are happening to our society, and that’s what expressive speech is supposed to do. Transmet does it exceedingly well.” also spoke with Ellis, Robertson, and Brian Pulido of The Hero Initiative about the project. You can catch the full article and exclusive images here.

Vandalism of Students’ Pro-life Display in Pa. Must Be Addressed

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

According to, last week saw the severe vandalism and destruction of a student group's pro-life display at Clarion University, a public university in Pennsylvania. In an article yesterday that includes photos of the vandalism, Steven Ertelt reports that the display, "Cemetery of the Innocents," features about 350 small pink and blue crosses to represent "unborn children who have been killed in abortions." The photos show many of the crosses turned upside down or broken into pieces and streaked with red paint. One photo shows the words "Pro-Choice!" painted in red in front of one of the display's signs.

To make matters worse, according to Kristan Hawkins, Executive Director of Students for Life of America, the student group Clarion Students for Life "experiences some sort of vandalism" of its display "every year."

It should come as no surprise that vandalism is not a legal way to show opposition to someone else's expression. The vandalism at Clarion University interferes with the right of Clarion Students for Life to express its views and with the right of others to see the display. I hope Clarion Students for Life presses Clarion University and the local police to investigate this illegal act so that ...

Righthaven v. CIO: It’s Hard Out Here for a Troll

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Last Friday, the federal district court in Nevada held that the non-profit organization Center for Intercultural Organizing’s posting of a copyrighted news article was a non-infringing fair use. The well-reasoned opinion sets a powerful precedent for fair use and against copyright trolling.

The newspaper article at issue was originally published by Stephens Media’s Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. Per its standard practice, copyright troll Righthaven LLC found it online and entered into a scheme with Stephens Media, under which the publisher purportedly assigned the right to sue to Righthaven. The litigation factory would then carry on the litigation at its own expense, splitting any proceeds with Stephens Media (less expenses).

This scheme was fatal to Righthaven’s infringement claim, because it greatly strengthened CIO’s claim to fair use. When analyzing fair use cases, courts must consider four statutory factors – the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the work, the amount and substantiality of the use, and the harm to the copyright holder’s market. These factors are balanced “in light of the purposes of copyright,” which are “[t]o promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts and to serve the welfare of the public.” (see Perfect 10 v. Amazon...

FIRE’s 2010 Annual Report

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

With the support of our friends and donors, FIRE accomplished much in 2010 and we are pleased to present those achievements in our 2010 Annual Report (pdf) released today. Last year, we won 27 public victories on behalf of students and professors at colleges and universities that have a total enrollment of more than half a million students. We launched our first-ever video fellowship to document abuses of liberty on campus; added nearly 1,000 new members to our influential Campus Freedom Network; and witnessed yet another decrease (for the third year in a row) in the percentage of schools maintaining unconstitutional speech code policies.

I encourage you to read more about FIRE's accomplishments in our Annual Report. I think Torch readers will be impressed by all that we have done in the past year. We wouldn't have been able to do it without you.

Student Rights in Jeopardy as University of Massachusetts Considers New Speech Codes

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

In the wake of government pressure on universities to address sexual harassment and bullying on campus, a committee at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) has proposed revisions (.pdf) to the university's Code of Student Conduct that would severely compromise the rights of UMass students. Last Friday, FIRE sent an urgent letter to UMass detailing the problems with the proposed changes and reminding the university of its obligation, as a public institution, to uphold its students' First Amendment rights.

While the number of restrictive speech codes on college campuses has declined slightly over the last few years, two recent developments threaten to bring them back. First, following the death of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementiwho sadly committed suicide after a video of him engaging in sexual activity with a man was streamed on the Internet by two studentsuniversities have come under a great deal of pressure to address instances of "bullying" and "cyberbullying" on campus. Although Clementi was the victim of criminal conduct, already prohibited by law and by university policy, his case has led to calls to crack down on a wide range of speech and expression that, while hurtful, is protected by the First ...

Chief Justice Roberts and the First Amendment

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

The nomination of John G. Roberts to the Supreme Court in 2005 caused considerable protest among politicians and law experts, many of whom voiced concerns over Roberts’ typically conservative stance in his decisions.

The First Amendment Center recently analyzed Roberts’ decisions regarding First Amendment cases, starting with the idea the “Conservatives are often portrayed as hostile or indifferent to First Amendment issues.” They found that Roberts “has not been a disaster — far from it.”

Among Roberts’ opinions that the First Amendment Center analyzed was the following passage from Roberts’ majority opinion in Snyder v. Phelps, the recent landmark decision regarding the Westboro Baptist Church:

“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

While the speech of the Westboro group is recognized by most as abominable, Roberts’ recognizes the even objectionable speech is protected by the First Amendment.


Local News: Lewis Black

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Artist Sam Welty uses the First Amendment Monument to welcome comedian Lewis Black to Charlottesville.  Black will be performing for two nights at The Paramount Theater beginning April 27.

White House Threatens Science Blog Over Use of Logo

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

When Keith Cowing made an innocuous post about a meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on his long-running science policy blog, Space Ref, he didn’t imagine that it would trigger a phone call from the White House. But that is exactly what happened, and the White House was not calling to congratulate him on his excellent science policy coverage. Cowing’s offense? Including an image of the seal of the Executive Office of the President of the United States in his blog post. According to Cowing, White House staffer Rick Weiss objected to the seal’s placement in proximity to an ad, which White House lawyers worried might be construed as an endorsement of the product.

The legal basis for the claim is unclear, but the story does sound familiar. In July of 2010, the FBI made a similar demand to Wikipedia for its use of the FBI seal on a Wikipedia entry about, no surprise, the FBI. That claim was made under 18 U.S.C. sec. 701, which is aimed at use of government seals to deceive the public. Wikipedia’s lawyers responded with a detailed letter pointing out, among other things, that their use wasn't ...

Future Social Media Policy (and policy)

Monday, April 25th, 2011
In his article ”The Challenge of Developing Effective Public Policy on the Use of Social Media,” John Palfrey, co-director of Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, discusses the problems that American youth face in the wake of increased online social media presence in his article. One of Palfrey’s  concerns is balancing the desire to encourage [...]

Robert in ‘Pajamas Media’ on Pamphleteering and Political Correctness

Monday, April 25th, 2011
In his latest article for Pajamas Media, Robert criticizes the censorship of Ethel Borel-Donohue at Sinclair Community College (SCC). Torch readers will remember that Borel-Donohue was banned from distributing literature on abortion, birth control, and breast cancer to her classmates after class. Robert presents the evidence that SCC censored Borel-Donahue not because of its unconstitutional ban on distributing flyers (see Section IV.3), but because she was advocating viewpoints that the school deemed to be politically incorrect. Robert compares Borel-Donohue's case to one at Princeton Theological Seminary, where a circulated pamphlet comparing the abortion rate in African-American communities to genocide prompted the seminary's dean of student life to require administrative approval for all future literature.

To read more about how public and private universities are slowly eroding away some of America's most cherished freedoms, Torch readers are strongly encouraged to check out Robert's piece in its entirety.

Chief Justice Roberts and the First Amendment

Monday, April 25th, 2011

In his analysis of Chief Justice Roberts’ record on First Amendment issues, David Hudson of the First Amendment Center writes,

“Conservatives are often portrayed as hostile or indifferent to First Amendment freedoms. But in the arena of free speech Roberts has not been a disaster — far from it. Although he did join in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006) — a troubling decision that gravely limited the free speech of public employees — in other free-speech decisions he has shown an appreciation for fundamental First Amendment values.”

Read the analysis in full.

National Attention to UCLA Whistleblowing Scandal from Cato’s Ilya Shapiro

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Over at the Cato @ Liberty blog, Ilya Shapiro has brought even more attention to the whistleblowing scandal at UCLA, which FIRE has been covering here. Shapiro, who is a Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies for the Cato Institute and also the Editor-in-Chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, writes:

This month, UCLA's James Enstrom (34 years a professor) is fighting his dismissal from UCLA for [among other exercises of his academic freedom and basic rights] submitting a paper to a regulatory board that denied that diesel particulates cause 2,000 premature deaths in California per year.  The scientific literature published subsequent to his initial findings support his thesis and the conclusions his work refuted turned out to be written by a fraud who received his Ph.D. from a diploma mill.  In short, he was fired for telling the truth. produced an excellent (and infuriating) video detailing the story.   The story exposes a corrupt political process, bogus credentials, cronyism, and trumped-up charges against a man guilty only of scientific rigor:

If you've missed this important case, please take a few minutes to watch the video (now with more than 30,000 views) and see how UCLA is willing to ...

Yale Student Applauds His Critics, Laments Lack of Commitment to Free Speech

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Yale sophomore Nate Zelinsky spent last week being anonymously attacked on the Internet and called a racist and classistbacklash from an opinion piece he authored on Sunday in the Yale Daily News. But Zelinsky isn't complaining; in fact, he's encouraging it.

On Friday, he penned yet another piece, this time defending his anonymous critics. In his article, Zelinsky extols the virtues of the marketplace of ideas and free speech on college campuses, while taking Yale and its student body to task for failing to do the same. He points to the recent exclusion of a preacher based on his views on homosexuality, as well as the investigation of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity members for chants outside of the Yale Women's Center. Sadly, he was also able to point to a fellow columnist's article that espoused an "if you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em" approach: since other groups embrace punishing speech offensive to them, so should mine.

Zelinsky understands the special role that higher education occupies in the marketplace of ideas, and that the appropriate response to offensive speech is not censorship, but more speech:

Our society protects such speech, however incorrigible, because we have the right ...

‘Daily Bruin’ Columnist: Stop Asking UCLA to Apologize for the Speech of Others

Monday, April 25th, 2011

As readers are likely aware, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has been a hotbed of First Amendment discussion lately. Most recently, some students were upset when the dean of UCLA's law school "merely" reiterated that a professor's blog postseen as offensive by somecontained his own views, and not those of the university. Those students hoped for a stronger statement akin to the judgment-laden response by UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block to the YouTube video posted by former student Alexandra Wallace.

On Friday, Daily Bruin opinion columnist Carly Cody explained why students seeking a stronger administrative response are misguided. Cody recognizes that such actions by the administration open the door to similar requests by anyone who happens to hear something that they find personally disagreeable:

Though deemed appropriate at the time, Block's statement has created precedent for students to demand similar treatment to any remark that stands outside the periphery of their own beliefs.

Members of SHARE JD said they found Moran's response to Bainbridge lackluster in comparison to the administration's response to the YouTube video. The Bruin's editorial board also argued that the reaction to Bainbridge's post should have been bolder and consistent with ...

‘Don’t say gay’ bill clears Tenn. Senate panel

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

After some convoluted maneuvers, a Tennessee Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that will prohibit teachers from discussing homosexuality in kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms.

The measure (SB49) is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who unsuccessfully pushed the same idea – nicknamed the “don’t say gay” bill – for six years as a member of the state House before he was elected to the Senate.

Read more.


Thank You! Come Again!

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Thanks to everyone who attended last night's second Bay Area Members-Only Speakeasy in San Francisco! We hope that you enjoyed this happy hour event as much as we did. Based on your votes, we were treated to an inside look at recent developments in Righthaven Copyright Troll lawsuits from EFF's Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry.

The conversations continued well into the night at Noisebridge, our local hackerspace. A special thanks to Andy Isaacson who spoke about EFF's SSL Observatory during his 5 Minutes of Fame lightning talk. For those who couldn't make, we hope to see you next time. Watch for the next Members' Speakeasy near you!

Learn more about EFF Membership benefits at

This Week in FIRE News: Victory at Montclair State

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

This week, FIRE reported a free speech victory after Montclair State University backed down from charging an unconstitutional security fee for a speech sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society featuring education theorist and former Weatherman Bill Ayers. This is one more example where FIRE thwarted a "heckler's veto." Stanley Kurtz, writing for National Review Online's The Corner, writes:

It seems that Montclair State adopted a tactic sometimes deployed to keep controversial speakers off campus. They tried to assess the SDS a special fee to pay for security during Ayers' speech. This tactic has been used to discourage conservative and libertarian speakers form appearing on campuses, and FIRE has intervened in those cases as well.

Thanks also to our supporters over at The Moral Liberal for announcing our victory.

Torch readers may remember that three professors were suspended from Southwestern College (SWC) in California and banned from its campus after straying beyond its unconstitutional free speech zone during a protest. While the professors, with FIRE's assistance, were reinstated and eventually had their disciplinary records over this incident completely expunged, it has taken SWC almost a year and a half to revise its free speech policy. Lyndsay Winkley of The Southwestern College ...

UGA Journalism Professor: Harassment Policy ‘Infantilizes’ Students

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

A few weeks ago I wrote here about an excellent Atlanta Journal-Constitution column by University of Georgia (UGA) journalism professor William Lee, in which he pointed out the infirmities in UGA's speech codes, which fall well short of giving students the First Amendment protections they are owed.

As Lee now writes for UGA's paper, The Red and Black, he's been taking that message to his students. As his April 20 column opens:

The remark was extraordinary. After a discussion of the University's anti-harassment policies in my communication law class, a student exclaimed, "UGA treats us like children. It is time that UGA let us sit at the grown-up table."

Well past time, actually, as FIRE and Professor Lee would argue. Lee goes on to say that "The University's harassment policies, designed to prevent students from experiencing a 'hostile environment,' actually create an atmosphere on campus that is hostile to free speech."

This reality, he notes, strikes a sharp contrast to the numerous free speech rulings the Supreme Court has handed down through the years, most recently in the case of Snyder v. Phelps:

In a concluding passage, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "Speech is powerful. It can ...

Iowa Professor’s Email Telling College Republicans ‘F@#$ YOU’ Reveals Importance of Free Exchange on Campus

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

The recent, highly publicized email exchange between Ellen Lewin, anthropology and women's studies professor at the University of Iowa (UI), and the UI College Republicans presents an exciting scenario to the First Amendment enthusiast. This email exchange reveals both the innate desire to communicate anger using inflamed rhetoric, and the opposing reflex of those offended to overreact. The emails also demonstrate the importance of allowing speech to be aired freely. Free exchanges readily expose expression that is extreme, ignorant, or unprofessional.

This saga began when the College Republicans sent out a mass email, approved by the UI administration, inviting students to join the "Conservative Coming Out Week" events.  These events, clearly intended to satirize liberals and supposedly liberal values, included an "Animal Rights Barbecue" and a "sick of being stressed" excuse to miss class (poking fun at some of Wisconsin's public employees). Outraged by what she perceived as a glib mockery of the prejudice experienced by gays in this country, Professor Lewin fired back, "FUCK YOU REPUBLICANS" and signed the email by placing her name above her university title.

In the interchange that followed, Iowa Federation of College Republicans Chair and UI student Natalie Ginty criticized Lewin for "leaving her ...

Righthaven Defies Court, Ignores Domain Name Ruling

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Last Friday, the Chief Judge of the federal court in Nevada, which is overseeing more than 200 Righthaven copyright cases, dismissed Righthaven's meritless claim to seize its victim's domain names. In each case so far, Righthaven contended that the mere hosting of any infringing material means that the entire domain name was forfeit to the copyright troll. Chief Judge Hunt rejected that claim, explaining that the "Court finds that Righthaven’s request for such relief fails as a matter of law and is dismissed."

Last night, Righthaven filed a new copyright case in Nevada federal court, and - guess what? - demanded forfeiture of the domain name. Indeed, unable to take "you're wrong as a matter of law" for an answer, Righthaven upped the ante, and asked the Court to:

Order the surrender to Righthaven of all hardware, software, electronic media and domains, including the Domain used to store, disseminate and display the unauthorized versions of any and all copyrighted works as provided for under 17 U.S.C. § 505(b) and/or as authorized by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 64.

Not only has the domain name claim been specifically and completely rejected by that very court, but Righthaven's new citations do nothing ...

High court asked to reinstate FCC indecency policy

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

The Obama administration yesterday asked the Supreme Court to reinstate a policy that allows federal regulators to fine broadcasters for showing nudity and airing curse words when young children may be watching television.

The administration is seeking the high court’s review of appeals court rulings that threw out the Federal Communications Commission’s rules against even a single use of an expletive as well as fines against broadcasters who showed a woman’s nude buttocks on a 2003 episode of “NYPD Blue.”

Last year, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York threw out the FCC policy, saying it was unconstitutionally vague and left broadcasters uncertain of what programming the agency will find offensive. The challenge to the FCC rules arose over celebrities’ use of the F-word and S-word on live awards shows.

Read more.

Read the Thomas Jefferson Center brief filed in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Artist Makes ‘Time’ List

Friday, April 22nd, 2011
A Chinese social critic detained by his government draws widespread support from abroad.

Activist Charged in Beijing

Friday, April 22nd, 2011
A Chinese activist's formal arrest follows a month in detention.

"Who Has Your Back?" In Depth: Corporate Transparency About Government Demands for User Information

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

EFF recently launched a campaign calling on companies to stand with their users when the government comes looking for data. (If you haven’t done so, sign our petition urging companies to provide better transparency and privacy.) This article will provide a more detailed look at one of the four categories in which a company can earn a gold star in our campaign: transparency about government requests.

We're asking companies to do two things in order earn a gold star in the transparency category: provide reports on how often they provide data to the government, and publish their law enforcement guidelines.

First, EFF is measuring whether companies publish the number of government demands they receive for user data, whether it's an official demand such as a warrant or an unofficial request. Google led the way in this category, and is the only company in our list currently publishing a Transparency Report. According to the report, over the course of six months Google has received 30 data requests from Israel, 71 data requests from Belgium, 1,343 data requests from the U.K. and 4,287 data requests from the U.S. As Google explains:

We believe that this raw data will give people ...

Sexual Predators, Please Check Here:’s Deeply Flawed Plan to Screen for Sex Offenders

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Earlier this week, the popular online dating site announced plans to implement a system to check their users against sex offender registries. This comes in the wake of a lawsuit against the company by a woman who says she was assaulted by someone she met through the website. While sexual assault is inexcusable, this would-be solution is deeply flawed.’s plan isn’t a good way to catch sexual predators (who could just use fake names), sacrifices user privacy, and sets a troubling precedent for allowing companies to peer into our personal lives and histories before doing business with us.

Now, to set the record straight: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act generally protects from being held liable as a publisher for what users post on the site. And isn’t responsible for how users act when they aren’t on the site. But, as we saw with Craigslist last year, sometimes a site under pressure will change their legal policies rather than continue to face public criticism.

There are several glaring flaws with’s plan. For one, can’t prevent sexual assault by screening for sex offenders. But even if’s goal is merely to check whether ...

EFF Files Comments with PTO Regarding Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

EFF today, along with Professor Jason Schultz, Co-Director of the Samuelson Law, Technology, & Public Policy Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley Law School, and Professor Mark Webbink, Executive Director of the Center for Patent Innovations at New York Law School, filed comments in response to the Patent Office’s Request for Information on Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review.

Traditionally, the lack of public participation at the Patent Office has caused great harm to patent quality as well as innovation. In addition, we have seen time and again that third parties want to participate in the patent process. Successful programs like EFF’s Patent Busting Project and Peer To Patent are proof of this trend.

We believe that third parties — especially those whose work is deeply affected by patents but who may not usually deal with the PTO — will also want to participate in the PTO’s rulemaking process to make sure their voices are heard on how to best implement policies and procedures to eliminate bad patents and to bolster innovation. In our comments we encourage the PTO to employ a broad public participation process that would include public roundtables and hearings. We are hopeful that the PTO ...

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites HC, signed by Jill Thompson!

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

From award-winning creators Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother, The Invisibles, Death: At Death’s Door) and Evan Dorkin (Milk & Cheese), this beautiful hardcover edition collects the Eisner Award-winning short stories, as well as all four issues of the acclaimed series. It is signed by illustrator and painter Jill Thompson.

About Beasts of Burden: Welcome to Burden Hill — a picturesque little town adorned with white picket fences and green, green grass, home to a unique team of paranormal investigators. Beneath this shiny exterior, Burden Hill harbors dark and sinister secrets, and it’s up to a heroic gang of dogs — and one cat — to protect the town from the evil forces at work. These are the Beasts of Burden Hill — Pugs, Ace, Jack, Whitey, Red and the Orphan — whose early experiences with the paranormal (including a haunted doghouse, a witches’ coven, and a pack of canine zombies) have led them to become members of the Wise Dog Society, official animal agents sworn to protect their town from evil. This turns out to be no easy task, as they soon encounter demonic cannibal frogs, tortured spirits, a secret rat society, and a bizarre and ...

First Amendment Victory at Montclair State: Ayers Speech Escapes ‘Heckler’s Veto’

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Montclair State University (MSU) has averted a First Amendment crisis on campus by backing down from an unconstitutional plan to levy extra fees on a student group that had invited education theorist and former Weatherman Bill Ayers to lecture on campus, as described in today's press release. After the university told Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) that it would be responsible to pay for an unspecified number of extra security officers because of the possibility of hostile protesters, the students came to FIRE. After we intervened, MSU abandoned its efforts to levy any extra fee.

"Universities like Montclair State seem to think they've come up with a new way to keep controversial views from campus: force student groups to pay a lot more to bring in controversial speakers. Thankfully, you can't do an end run around the First Amendment," Greg says in our press release. "This strategy has been used to discourage student groups from bringing speakers from the left and the right. But such security fees are unconstitutional, and it's time for them to stop."

On February 14, 2011, SDS properly notified Montclair State University (MSU) of the group's intention to hold a lecture event titled "Bill ...

Court Rejects Argument That All First-Time Email Hacking Offenses Are Felonies

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Over the past few years, prosecutors have tried to stretch the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) in troubling ways through cases like United States v. Drew. This week, a federal appeals court rebuffed another attempt to expand the CFAA, finding that prosecutors can't double-count computer crime charges to turn misdemeanors into felonies.

Under the CFAA, it's generally a misdemeanor to access a computer in a way that is unauthorized or exceeds authorization. If someone violates the CFAA "in furtherance" of breaking another law, the crime turns from a misdemeanor into a felony. A different law, the Stored Communications Act (SCA), prohibits getting unauthorized access to someone else's email stored with an ISP. Since breaking into an email account stored with an ISP necessarily involves unauthorized access to the ISP's computer, the government can normally prosecute a first-time offense as a misdemeanor under the CFAA or the SCA.

Yet in United States v. Cioni, the government argued that a woman who broke into other people's email accounts violated the CFAA "in furtherance" of violating the SCA, double-counting the computer crime violations to convict her on felony charges.

This kind of double-counting punishes the defendant twice for the same ...

Student Journalist on Censorship: ‘We are the problem and the solution’

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Student columnist Danielle Porter penned an opinion piece earlier this week for The Pirates' Log, Modesto Junior College's student newspaper, lamenting censorship and the loss of freedom of speech not only on her own campus, but as a national trend across colleges and universities. Importantly, Porter acknowledges that it is not only the censoring forces that are to blame: to her, all who are complicit, even by apathy, enable the erosion of First Amendment rights. Porter writes:

We are losing our freedom of speech like sand through our fingers and we have no one to blame but ourselves. You can't have freedom of speech unless you understand the definition and are willing to hear some of what you like and some of what you don't.

Don't be part of the problemfight back against censorship on your college campus and support FIRE! Check out the full article here.

Commentary: Michael Copps’ Excellent Adventure

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Even in a town filled to the gunwales with sagacious and selfless public servants (wink, wink), FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now in his tenth and final year as such, stands out from the crowd.  Evidence of his colorful take on policy issues has been on display right from the beginning.

In 2001, for instance, in just his first months on the job, Copps issued statements condemning allegedly indecent radio comments by Howard Stern (September); the TV broadcast of a Victoria’s Secret program (November); and the airing of liquor advertising (December).

When he wasn’t condemning indecent language, scantily clad women, or Demon Rum, Copps was laying the groundwork for what would become his signature spiel: a four-part jeremiad that excoriates the current state of journalism (not enough “localism” or investigative reporting); blames this state of affairs on media consolidation; recommends more spending on public broadcasting; and decries what he sees as insufficient “public interest” obligations on the licensed media (and perhaps the unlicensed media as well).

Copps is not alone in holding such views, but there’s something about the way he presents them – especially now when the political, legal, and economic winds are blowing in a very different direction – ...

Reading Below the Fold, and Between the Lines

Thursday, April 21st, 2011
After a member of the La Salle University’s faculty hosted an optional symposium with special guests (read: exotic dancers), the editors of the university’s  paper The Collegian knew they had a story on their hands. One of the Collegian staff members interviewed two students who had attended the conference, as well as university officials and the professor [...]

Christian Extremists Vandalize Art — Again and Again

Thursday, April 21st, 2011
Last October we reported about an incident at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Colorado where a woman ripped into a lithograph after she busted the artwork’s plexiglass case with a crowbar. She did this because God told her to do it. In her explanation of the vandalism, Kathleen Folden refers to the similar destruction of Andres [...]

Ga. judge: ‘Pure speech’ isn’t chilled by assisted-suicide law

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

A Georgia judge rejected a free-speech challenge to the state's law against assisted suicide, allowing a high-profile case to proceed against four members of a suicide group charged with helping a cancer-stricken man kill himself.

Forsyth County Superior Court Judge David Dickinson said in the opinion released yesterday that "pure speech is in no way chilled or limited" by the law, siding with prosecutors in the state's case against four Final Exit Network members.

"The court understands that defendants contend that the statute criminalizes only speech," the judge wrote in the 13-page ruling. "However, the court finds that the statute requires both speech and an overt act in furtherance of assisting in the suicide."

Georgia law makes it a felony for anyone who "publicly advertises, offers or holds himself or herself out as offering that he or she will intentionally and actively assist another person in the commission of suicide and commits any overt act to further that purpose." It sets a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The four claim the law violates their free-speech rights because instead of criminalizing suicide or assisted suicide, it bans people from publicly speaking about assisted suicide and then participating in the ...

Court won’t bar anti-abortion activist from contacting doctor

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

WICHITA, Kan. — A federal judge on Wednesday refused the government’s request for a preliminary injunction to order a Kansas anti-abortion activist to stay away from a doctor who plans to offer abortion services in Wichita.

The Justice Department filed a civil complaint against Angel Dillard, 44, after she sent what the government alleges was a threatening letter to Dr. Mila Means. In denying the government’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented Dillard from coming within 250 feet of the doctor, U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten said that while the letter was clearly meant to intimidate Means, it wasn’t a threat.

“The First Amendment is the absolute bedrock of this country’s freedom and I think the ability to express an opinion on a topic that is important to one — even if it is controversial — has to be protected so long as the line is not crossed and becomes a true threat. I don’t think this letter constitutes a true threat,” Marten said in his ruling from the bench.

Dillard, of Valley Center, wrote in her rambling letter in January that thousands of people from across the United States were looking into Means’ background.

“They ...

White House may require contractors to disclose contributions

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

WASHINGTON — The White House says it's considering requiring companies pursuing federal contracts to disclose their campaign contributions.

Spokesman Jay Carney says that would be achieved by an executive order that's being drafted.

With President Barack Obama officially a candidate for re-election, Carney denied any political motives behind the effort.

Carney said Obama wants to make the contracting system more transparent and more accountable because that's what U.S. taxpayers deserve. The spokesman talked to reporters as Obama flew to California for two days of public appearances mixing town hall meetings on the state of the economy with high-dollar campaign fundraisers.

The requirement is similar to a provision in a campaign-finance bill blocked by Senate Republicans in the last Congress. It would have banned contractors from donating to federal candidates or parties.

Google’s Lack of Transparency and Openness in the Android Market Will Hurt More Than Just Grooveshark

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

The vast open landscape for users, developers, and industry that Google announced with the release of Android has been growing narrower and more opaque. When the service launched, Google made much of Android’s transparency and inclusiveness, which it said would enable innovation lacking in the mobile space. And Google has pointed fingers at Apple for its draconian, closed ways.

But who’s being draconian now? Earlier this month, Google removed Grooveshark’s popular app from the Android Market for violation of the Android terms of service, later informing Grooveshark that the removal was related to a “complaint from the RIAA" but nevertheless refusing to provide an actual legal or policy basis for the takedown.

In the limited marketplace for mobile apps, exclusion from one of the primary storefronts is a serious blow to a business that hopes to compete. And because Google won’t say why Grooveshark’s app allegedly violated its terms and conditions, Grooveshark has no opportunity to try to cure.

It’s hard to not speculate about what happened. We can only assume that a complaint from the RIAA would be based in copyright. That Google would perform a copyright takedown without requiring a valid ...

"Who Has Your Back?" In Depth: Which Companies Promise To Tell Users About Government Data Requests?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

EFF recently launched a campaign calling on companies to stand with their users when the government comes looking for data. (If you haven’t done so, sign our petition urging companies to provide better transparency and privacy.) This article will provide a more detailed look at one of the four categories in which a company can earn a gold star in our campaign: promising to tell users about government data demands.

This category requires a company to make an enforceable promise to let users know when the government comes knocking, unless giving notice is prohibited by law or a court order. This commitment is important because it gives users a chance to defend themselves against government requests. In most situations, a user is in a better position than a company to challenge a government request for personal information, and of course, she has more incentive to do so.

Promising to give notice should be an easy commitment to make — the company doesn't have to take a side, it merely has to pass on important information to the user. And companies don't have to give notice if the law or a court order prevents it. Ideally, we think companies should make ...

Petition Site Hit by Hackers

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011
A China-based attack targets a website calling for the release of artist Ai Weiwei.

Despite Viewpoint Discrimination by SGA, Young Americans for Liberty Carries on With ‘Hemp Fest’ at ECU

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Today at East Carolina University (ECU), the student group Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) is raising awareness about American drug policy, as well as about the practical uses of legal hemp products. They're doing so with a little First Amendment help from FIRE, but not much from ECU's student government.

I say "not much" because, indeed, ECU's Student Government Association (SGA)despite its obligation to uphold viewpoint neutrality in distributing student fees for student group eventsdecided that protecting its public image was more important than funding a "combustible" event that they apparently believe glorifies drug culture.

On March 14, YAL requested $735 in SGA funding for this year's Hemp Fest event. Part of that request consisted of $150 to purchase an assortment of hemp products available for viewing and testing during Hemp Fest, including rope, clothing, and body care products. (All of these products are legal, by the way.) Little more than a week later, on March 23, YAL was alerted by SGA Treasurer Justin Davis that most of the requested funding had been denied, including the whole of the portion requested for the hemp products. In all, SGA recommended that only $210 be allocated for the ...

FIRE Asks Supreme Court to Review Ninth Circuit Decision Limiting Challenges to Speech Codes

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

In an amicus curiae brief filed yesterday, FIRE is asking the Supreme Court of the United States to grant review of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's 2010 decision in Lopez v. Candaele. FIRE's brief argues that by holding that Los Angeles City College student Jonathan Lopez did not possess sufficient standing to challenge speech codes maintained by the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), despite having been threatened with punishment under those codes by his professor, the Ninth Circuit established a dangerous new barrier to students wishing to vindicate their First Amendment rights in court. FIRE is asking the Supreme Court to reverse this decision so that students can avail themselves of legal avenues to ensure that they continue to enjoy freedom of speech on campus.

Regular Torch readers will likely remember Lopez's shocking story: As a student in a Speech 101 class, Lopez delivered remarks referencing his religious views as part of a class assignment, including expressing his view of Biblical morality and his conception of the proper definition of marriage. Following the speech, Lopez was called a "fascist bastard" by his professor. When Lopez asked for a grade, the professor recommended that ...


Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Each year, on or around Thomas Jefferson’s April 13 birthday, The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression “awards” the individuals and organizations who put in a concerted effort to abridge free speech in the previous year. The 2011 “winners” of these awards — called the Jefferson Muzzles — were recently announced.

Who can we thank for impeding free speech during 2010? The dubious honorees included no less than the Obama Administration and BP “for restricting media access to the Gulf oil spill,” the TSA “for having a young man arrested for stripping off much of his clothing to display the text of the Fourth Amendment,” and more. You can check out the full list of recipients here.

The Jefferson Muzzles serve as a reminder that free expression isn’t always as safe as we think it is.

‘HTTPS Now’ Campaign Urges Users to Take an Active Role in Protecting Internet Security

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Access have launched an international campaign for HTTPS Now, rallying consumers around the world to help us make web surfing safer.

"We've heard a lot about how malicious tools like Firesheep can be used to steal data, including passwords for email and social networking accounts," said EFF Activist Eva Galperin. "HTTPS Now is aimed at protecting users from attacks like these by spreading the word about HTTPS and how to use it correctly. HTTPS provides the minimum level of security for websites. Without it, no site can make any meaningful security or privacy guarantees to its users."

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) protects web surfing by encrypting requests from a user's browser and the resulting pages that are displayed, but many websites default to using the unencrypted and vulnerable HTTP protocol. The HTTPS Now campaign takes a three-pronged approach to protecting web surfing, including distributing updated tools for people to use to protect their web browsing, taking an Internet-wide survey of the state of HTTPS deployment, and helping website operators implement HTTPS.

As a first step, individuals using the web are encouraged to install HTTPS Everywhere, a security tool for the ...

Mass Copyright Litigation: New Challenge for the Federal Courts

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

The below originally appeared in the Daily Journal.

The past year has seen the emergence of a new litigation strategy that poses particular challenges for the federal courts: mass copyright litigation. Over 130 mass copyright cases – i.e., copyright infringement cases joining together hundreds and often thousands of Doe defendants at once - have been filed in just the last 15 months in federal district courts across the country, targeting over 135,000 people. These cases involve significant and substantive early, ex parte activity before the individual defendants are even aware of the litigation, much less in a position to respond. Yet even at this early stage, these cases raise fundamental due process concerns. While there has yet to develop a body of published case law about the novel issues raised by the mass copyright cases, a growing body of largely unpublished judicial decisions can help both courts and attorneys handling them, whether on behalf of an ISP (Internet service provider) or on behalf of a defendant.

The cases generally follow the same path. A complaint is filed against hundreds or thousands of unnamed “John Does,” usually involving a single claim of copyright infringement over a single copyrighted work. The ...

Quran-burning pastor ordered to court ahead of protest

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

DEARBORN, Mich. — A Michigan judge has ordered a Florida pastor to appear in court ahead of a protest scheduled for later this week outside a mosque in Dearborn.

Wayne County prosecutors say they fear the Rev. Terry Jones’ appearance outside the Islamic Center of America on April 22 could lead to violence.

Dearborn’s 19th District Court Judge Mark W. Somers on April 18 ordered Jones to appear tomorrow to answer questions about the event. The Detroit News says prosecutors want Jones to post a “peace bond” to pay for additional police officers during the demonstration.

A burning of the Quran last month at Jones’ small church in Gainesville, Fla., inflamed anti-Western sentiment in Afghanistan, inciting riots and an attack on a U.N. facility that killed seven staff workers.