Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

ACLU Warns Against Sixth Circuit’s Dangerous Grant of Power to Censor to High School Administrators

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

In an op-ed published last week in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Hedy Weinberg of the ACLU of Tennessee and Catherine Crump of the national ACLU warn of the dangers of a recent Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling regarding high school speech. The case, Defoe v. Spiva, concerns the suspension of a high school student who wore Confederate flag paraphernalia to school. In finding that the suspension did not violate the student's First Amendment rights, the Sixth Circuit ruled that "school administrators can limit speech in a reasonable fashion to further important policies at the heart of public education."

As Weinberg and Crump point out, this dangerously broad grant of the power to censor to high school administrators invites obvious abuse:

By the court's reasoning, a school in a liberal community that believes that support for gay rights is an "important policy" will be able to ban anti-gay T-shirts. And a school in a conservative community that teaches abstinence-only sex education could forbid students from expressing contrary views if the school believes that abstinence is "important."

The idea that schools can ban the expression of views that run contrary to "important" educational objectives is foreign - and hostile ...

2010′s Speech Code of the Year: UMass Amherst

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
As I reported last week on The Torch, each month, FIRE singles out a particularly reprehensible speech code for our Speech Code of the Month award. One of thoseUniversity of Massachusetts Amherst's policy on "rallies"is so egregious that it deserves to be 2010's Speech Code of the Year. The policy has special regulations applicable to what it calls "controversial rallies." If a rally is deemed "controversial," it may only take place between noon and 1 p.m. on the Student Union steps, must be registered at least five days in advance, and even requires the student group to provide its own security in the form of members of the student group, potentially putting students at risk in a situations that trained police could probably handle easily. Speech codes don't get much more ridiculous than this one.

EFF Wins Landmark Ruling Freeing Promo CDs for Resale

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

San Francisco - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has shot down bogus copyright infringement allegations from Universal Music Group (UMG), affirming an eBay seller's right to resell promotional CDs that he buys from secondhand stores and rejecting UMG's attempt to claim that a sticker on a CD created a license agreement forbidding resale.

Troy Augusto, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the law firm Durie Tangri LLP, was sued by UMG for offering promo CDs for auction on eBay. At issue was whether the labels on the CDs, some of which stated that they were "promotional use only, not for sale," trumped Augusto's right to resell the CDs that he bought. Copyright's "first sale" doctrine prevents a copyright owner from restricting further sales or uses of a work once title has passed.

In an opinion issued today, the appeals court held: "UMG transferred title to the particular copies of its promotional CDs and cannot maintain an infringement action against Augusto for his subsequent sale of those copies." The court noted that UMG did not maintain control of the CDs once it mailed them out, did not require the recipients to agree to the "conditions" ...

New edition excises n-word from Mark Twain classics

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Mark Twain wrote that “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter.” A new edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer will try to find out if that holds true by replacing the n-word with “slave” in an effort not to offend readers.

Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a combined volume of the books, said the n-word appears 219 times in Huck Finn and four times in Tom Sawyer. He said the word puts the books in danger of joining the list of literary classics that Twain once humorously defined as those “which people praise and don’t read.”

“It’s such a shame that one word should be a barrier between a marvelous reading experience and a lot of readers,” Gribben said.

Yet Twain was particular about his words. In an 1888 letter, he said the difference between the right word and the almost right one was “the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

The book isn’t scheduled to be published until February, at a mere 7,500 copies, but Gribben has already received a flood of hateful ...

Pa. state troopers will no longer bust for cuss words

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — Cutting loose with curse words can't be charged as a crime anymore in Pennsylvania — at least when state police are involved.

As part of a settlement yesterday of a federal free-speech lawsuit, state police have agreed to stop citing the public for using four-letter words and other epithets.

The American Civil Liberties Union represents Pennsylvanians who have been ticketed for cursing at an overflowing toilet, a swerving motorcyclist and a parking-ticket issuer. The citations can lead to hundreds of dollars in fines and legal costs, not to mention the occasional jail stint.

"Using profanity toward someone, whether an officer or not, is just not one of those things that you can put someone in jail for," ACLU lawyer Mary Catherine Roper said yesterday. "It may not be very smart, but you have a constitutional right to do that."

Yet state troopers issued more than 700 disorderly conduct citations for swearing in a recent one-year span, and local police hundreds more, the ACLU learned during the court case.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court years ago deemed such speech legal as long as it's neither threatening nor obscene, Roper said.

The case settled yesterday involves Lona Scarpa, a 35-year-old Luzerne ...

Ohio governor-elect won’t allow news media at official swearing-in

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Ohio officially swears in its new governor on Jan. 10, no representative of the public is slated to be there to witness it.

Republican Gov.-elect John Kasich has closed the 12:01 a.m. event to the news media, which appears to be a first in 20 years. He cites security concerns for his family at his personal residence in the suburb of Westerville, where he is to be sworn in by Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor.

The Plain Dealer reports that the Ohio Constitution requires the official swearing-in ceremony to occur just after midnight. A ceremonial inauguration is scheduled later on Jan. 10 at the Ohio Theatre in downtown Columbus, where news media access is to be allowed but limited.

The decision not to allow reporters to attend the official swearing-in ceremony is escalating criticism of Kasich over positions he's taken on access to public information, events and documents since his election on Nov. 2.

Kasich, a former congressman and Wall Street banker, has said he favors shielding salary and bonus information for those he appoints to a proposed semiprivate economic-development board that will dole out state grants, for example. He has supported blocking release of applicants' names ...

9th Circuit: San Diego cross is unconstitutional

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

SAN DIEGO — A war memorial cross in a San Diego public park is unconstitutional because it conveys a message of government endorsement of religion, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday in a two decades old case.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the unanimous decision in the dispute over the 29-foot cross, which was dedicated in 1954 in honor of Korean War veterans.

The 9th Circuit said modifications could be made to make it constitutional, but it didn't specify what those changes would be.

"In no way is this decision meant to undermine the importance of honoring our veterans," the three judges said in Trunk v. City of San Diego. "Indeed, there are countless ways that we can and should honor them, but without the imprimatur of state-endorsed religion."

Federal courts are reviewing several cases of crosses on public lands being challenged as unconstitutional, including a cross erected on a remote Mojave Desert outcropping to honor American war dead. Yesterday's ruling could influence future cases involving the separation of church and state.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle says the federal government, which is defending the San Diego cross, is studying the ruling ...

FIRE in the News: A Look Back at 2010

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Here at FIRE, we’ve always said that colleges and universities can’t defend in public what they do in private, and in 2010 we strove to ensure that all of the outrageous cases we encountered got plenty of publicity.

FIRE started off 2010 with a warning from Greg in Reason magazine that censorship on campus is far from extinct. Greg’s article, “P.C. Never Died,” stressed that speech codes still exist, restrictions are still enforced, and liberty is still very much at risk on campus. This piece set the tone for FIRE in 2010, as we endeavored throughout the year to expose how censorship not only threatens individual victims, but also the larger campus culture.

As part of that effort, both Greg and Robert kept the public up-to-date on our latest news through their columns on The Huffington Post and Pajamas Media, using these platforms to spread word of cases at the University of California, San Diego, Southwestern College, and Washington State University. Greg and Will wrote on the dangers of censorship in Free Inquiry, noting how restrictions on speech stifle open discourse and destroy the potential for debate and discussion. FIRE was also able to ...

Deferred Decision in Prop 8 Case

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Earlier today, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in the Proposition 8 case, unanimously concluding that they do not have enough information to decide if the Proposition 8 proponents have standing to pursue the appeal. Only if they have standing can the Ninth Circuit even consider the merits of the case.

The answer depends on what California state law is, so they have asked the California Supreme Court for guidance. We will have to wait for that court to respond before we learn if the Ninth Circuit will even get to the merits of the case.

If the Ninth Circuit should eventually overturn Proposition 8, we will doubtless hear accusations from the right that the judges pursued a political agenda to get the desired result at the expense of the law. Today’s decision undercuts any such argument. All three judges deferred making a decision until they could address the basic legal question of standing. This is hardly the move of judges with a political agenda and contempt for law.

Prisoners As Porters On Battlefront

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
Burma's ruling military junta uses prison labor in its fight against armed ethnic groups.

Radio Station Dubs UVa’s ‘Green Light’ One of the Most Significant Stories of 2010

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

FIRE's involvement with University of Virginia earning a green-light rating was mentioned on WINA 1070's Charlottesville Right Now! with Coy Barefoot by Rick Sincere, former chair of the Libertarian Party of Virginia, as one of his most significant news stories of 2010:

When President Teresa Sullivan took over as president of the University of Virginia, she quietly changed some regulations in the student handbook dealing with free speech policies at the instigation of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE; Adam Kissel ... came here to speak in April with the Students for Individual Liberty and it happened that one of the deans was there and heard his talk. Adam ... named a number of reasons why UVa's speech policies in terms of students needed to be changed, and they went to him for advice and they followed it. As a result, UVa is now a freer place for students to participate in First Amendment activities.

The podcast of the radio broadcast can be found here on the Charlottesville Podcasting Network, with this excerpt coming at 25 minutes in.

Students, student groups, faculty and staff members, and others can host a FIRE speaker through the Campus Freedom Network...

DC Voting Rights: First Test for Newly Elected Tea Partiers

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Many of the new members of Congress campaigned under the Tea Party banner, loudly warning their future constituents about the grave dangers of tyranny.

As one of the very first acts they will take as members of Congress, they will be asked by party leaders to eliminate the already-limited representation that residents of Washington DC have on the floor of the House. These taxpaying American citizens will have to comply with the laws this new Congress passes, yet their right to be represented in that body may be taken away completely.

Some might say this is the very definition of tyranny.

It's unquestionably an anathema to the principles of the American Revolution, which the Tea Party claims to support.

So this will be an educational opportunity for the entire country. Will the Tea Party members of Congress be true to the principles they claim to hold? Or, now that they are comfortably ensconced in power, will they abandon those principles when directed to by their Party leaders?

Two Big Legal Victories in 2010 Have FIRE Primed for Productive 2011

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

As FIRE's director of legal and public advocacy, I have the distinct pleasure of working with a supremely talented team of attorneys in defense of free speech, due process, and academic freedom on college campuses nationwide. Like all FIRE employees, FIRE's lawyers are dedicated to ensuring that our colleges and universities respect student and faculty rights to free inquiry, freedom of conscience, and freedom of assembly, among other basic liberties. But as attorneys, we have the unique opportunity and responsibility to use the law to further FIRE's mission.

While FIRE does not engage in direct litigationwe leave that job in the capable hands of the volunteer attorneys who comprise our national Legal Networkwe do coordinate lawsuits and work through other legal avenues to make sure that civil liberties are taken seriously in higher education. As we look ahead to the new year, I'm proud to report that in 2010, FIRE's legal team won several crucial battles. It's worth reviewing two of these big wins as we prepare for what will hopefully be an equally productive 2011.

First, FIRE added another victory (the seventh!) to our successful Speech Code Litigation Project last March, as a federal district ...

Memorial For Democracy Icon

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
Chinese activists in exile expect trouble entering Hong Kong to attend the event.

Commentary: WikiLeaks Bill a Danger to Free Speech

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

In a January 3 op-ed appearing in The New York Times, noted First Amendment scholar Geoffrey Stone describes the bill introduced in both houses of Congress in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures as a danger to free speech. 

Do Professors Have the Same Speech Rights as Police Officers?

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
The First Amendment Center reports on a federal district court opinion in Michigan about the right of police officers to speak out on matters of public importance even when those issues are part of their official duties, so long as they are speaking as police union officials rather than in their official role as police officers. Could this ruling be applied to professors as well? Such an interpretation would do much to bolster faculty speech rights given the confusion that lingers from the Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos.

CBLDF Auctions Superheroes by Margaret Atwood and Periscope Studios!

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Last October, celebrated writer and novelist Margaret Atwood was inspired to create superheroes based on the handles of her Twitter followers. The illustrations that followed became a fast internet sensation, and inspired the talented folks at Periscope Studios of Portland, Oregon, to illustrate their own takes on the characters Ms. Atwood designed.

(Comics Alliance rounds up the whole the story)

Periscope Studios, being steadfast supporters of the Fund, have generously donated their illustrations, giving you have the chance to one of these great pieces! Check out the Auction here!

Thanks to Steve Lieber, Ron Randall, Cat Farris, Ben Dewey, and Natalie Nourigat for their donations! And thanks to Margaret Atwood for the inspiration!

Direct Links to Auction Pages:

Ron Randall
Cat Farris
Steve Lieber
Ben Dewey
Natalie Nourigat

EFF Calls for Court to Affirm Downsized Copyright Damages

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal court Monday to affirm downsized damages in Sony v. Tenenbaum, a file-sharing case in which a jury originally ordered a college student to pay $675,000 for infringing copyright in 30 songs. EFF was represented by the Stanford Fair Use Project and the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic in filing the amicus brief.

A federal judge reduced the jury award to $67,500 last July, citing constitutional concerns and basic fairness. The record companies appealed the judge's decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In Monday's brief, EFF argues that the judge was right to try to ensure that damages in infringement cases bear a reasonable relationship to actual harm.

"The Supreme Court has ruled that courts should review statutory damage awards to ensure they are not grossly excessive," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "But unfortunately, courts have often failed to do so. This is an opportunity for the appeals court to clarify copyright law for creators and guarantee they have their due process rights."

Right now, it is difficult to predict copyright damages. Any creator who relies on an untested theory of fair use ...

Imminent attack on the DC Delegate’s vote in the Committee of the Whole House

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Today, the DC Delegate has a vote in the Committee of the Whole House.

Tomorrow, this partial right to vote – the only direct representation DC has had on the House floor in its entire history – will likely be revoked by House Republicans as they approve the House Rules of the 112th Congress. Speaker-designate Boehner needs to hear from you that this is unacceptable. From DC Vote:

On January 5, in the first hours of the 112th Congress, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives will likely silence the DC Delegate's voice in the Committee of the Whole House.

Call the incoming Speaker of the House, Representative John Boehner (R-OH) TODAY at 202.225.6205 and ask him to retain this important piece of DC's participation in the House.

Sample Call Script:

My name is ______ and I'm calling to ask Congressman Boehner [BAY-ner] to retain the DC Delegate vote in the Committee of the Whole.

DC residents pay full federal taxes, fight in wars and serve on juries, but have no voting representative.

It's taxation without representation. The Committee of the Whole is the only voice DC has when all the members of the House meet.

Please tell Congressman ...

Justice Scalia and Sex Discrimination

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Justice Antonin Scalia is in the news again, having pronounced yet again that the United States Constitution does not prohibit the government from discriminating against women. The Huffington Post reports on a newly-published interview with the legal magazine California Lawyer:

[Interviewer:] In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?

[Scalia:] Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. ... But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need ...

Ind. family tries to clip basketball team’s haircut policy

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS — The parents of a former junior high school basketball player have filed a federal lawsuit in Indianapolis that argues a team haircut policy violated their son's right to wear his hair the way he wants.

Patrick and Melissa Hayden said in the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court that their son was kicked off the Greensburg Junior High team after he refused to cut his hair to comply with team rules, which require that players' hair be above their eyebrows, collars and ears. The Indianapolis Star reported that the Haydens want the court to rule that the policy is unconstitutional, force the school district to stop enforcing the policy and award damages to the family.

"What they're trying to do here is teach (their son) a life lesson, which simply is that you fight for what's right," the Haydens' attorney, Ron Frazier, told the newspaper. "This is classic David versus Goliath, and they want their son to understand that."

School district officials say the policy doesn't violate the boy's rights, partly because extracurricular activities are considered a privilege, not a right. Tuck Hopkins, an attorney who represents Greensburg Community Schools, said the boy wasn't denied an ...

Ariz. official warns district it violates ethnic-studies ban

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

PHOENIX — A school district in Tucson is violating a new state law by continuing an ethnic-studies program designed primarily for Hispanics, outgoing Arizona schools chief Tom Horne said yesterday.

The finding on the day Horne leaves office to become state attorney general could cost the Tucson Unified School District nearly $15 million, which amounts to 10% of its annual state funding.

The district has 60 days to comply with the law that took effect Dec. 31. The finding could be appealed to an administrative law judge, said Horne, who added he expected the district to comply.

Horne, a Republican, contends the district must eliminate its Mexican-American studies program, or incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal would have to decide to withhold funding.

"In my eight years as superintendent of schools, I've never seen a district not come into compliance when faced with a severe financial penalty," Horne said.

District superintendent John Pedicone did not return calls seeking comment. But he told The Arizona Daily Star that an appeal was likely if Huppenthal orders funding withheld.

"We believe we are not out of compliance," Pedicone told the Star. "If the question is, could we afford that financial decrease, the ...

‘NYPD Blue’ buttocks fine nixed

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

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A federal appeals court panel today vacated an FCC fine against ABC for airing an episode of "NYPD Blue" that showed a woman’s bare buttocks for less than seven seconds.

ABC and many affiliates broadcast the episode in February 2003 in which actress Charlotte Ross, playing character Connie McDowell, displayed her nude backside as she prepared to shower. The FCC received indecency complaints and took action.

Calling the episode of the police drama indecent because “it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs — specifically an adult woman's buttocks,” the FCC issued a forfeiture order imposing a $27,500 fine on each of 52 ABC stations, totaling more than $1.4 million.

ABC and its affiliates appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In today's summary ruling in ABC, Inc. v. FCC, a three-judge panel vacated the fine on the basis of the full 2nd Circuit’s 2010 decision in Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. Fox.

In that July 2010 decision, the 2nd Circuit declared the FCC’s indecency policy unconstitutionally vague. In November 2010, the 2nd Circuit denied full-panel review in the Fox case. The government has not said whether it will seek review of the Fox decision before ...

High school juniors: Apply now for Free Spirit scholarship

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

WASHINGTON — High school juniors with a passion for journalism have until Feb. 15, 2011, to apply for the annual Al Neuharth Free Spirit Scholarship and Journalism Conference, July 9-14, 2011, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Eligibility is limited to students who are interested in journalism careers, who demonstrate qualities of “free spirit” and who are high school juniors in the 2010-2011 academic year. Online applications and more information are available at

The Al Neuharth Free Spirit program will select, teach, mentor and support 51 outstanding high school students, representing each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. They will participate in an all-expenses-paid journalism training conference at the Freedom Forum’s Newseum, located on Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Those who successfully complete the five-day workshop will be awarded $1,000 scholarships that will be paid to each student's college or university of choice in the fall of 2012.

The conference and scholarships are designed to inspire and encourage students to pursue journalism, to network with one another and to develop lifelong associations. The conference, hosted by Al Neuharth, includes full access to the Newseum, interaction with media leaders and journalists, hands-on training, tours ...

News media to get video of boy who shot himself at Mass. gun show

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A judge has ruled that the news media will be given access to the videotape of an 8-year-old boy who accidentally shot himself in the head at a gun show.

Judge Peter Velis said yesterday that there is no legal reason to prohibit news-media access to the video. Prosecutors and defense attorneys objected.

The video is expected to be introduced as evidence in the trial of former Pelham Police Chief Edward Fleury, who's charged with manslaughter in connection with the 2008 death of Christopher Bizilj of Ashford, Conn.

The boy lost control of an Uzi submachine gun he was firing and shot himself.

Opening statements are scheduled for today in Hampden Superior Court.

The 53-year-old Fleury, whose company co-sponsored the October 2008 show at the Westfield Sportsman's Club, has pleaded not guilty.

Diane Schrader Exposes Top 10 Abusers of Individual Rights on Campus in 2010 in ‘NewsRealBlog’

Monday, January 3rd, 2011
Diane Schrader, writing for NewsRealBlog, researched recent FIRE cases and documented what she considered to be the 10 most egregious violations of individual rights with updates in 2010. With so many outrageous violations of student expression this year, which 10 cases struck Schrader as particularly chilling? Read her post to find out!

Praise Continues for UVa’s Green-Light Rating

Monday, January 3rd, 2011
Universities that are thinking about reforming their unconstitutional speech codes should be encouraged by the public praise they'll receive by doing so. Torch readers will remember that last Wednesday, Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post wrote for her blog The Answer Sheet about the University of Virginia's rapid transformation from a red-light to a green-light university. Today, and Brendan Fitzgerald of C-VILLE join the ranks of recent authors and publications to spread the good news, extolling UVa's newfound commitment to freedom of expression. We welcome the continued coverage of UVa's positive turn.

Local News: Photography Exhibit on the First Amendment Monument

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

For a period of one year, beginning in November of 2009, photographer Bill Mauzy visited the Free Speech Monument on a daily basis to observe and record the writings and drawings created there by citizens and visitors.  Titling his project "The Wall," Mauzy’s photographs will be on display throughout January 2011at The Mudhouse on Charlottesville’s downtown mall.  On Friday, January 7 as part of "First Fridays," Mauzy will be at Mudhouse to discuss his work.  About his project, Mauzy says:

"Initially, I concentrated on recording a range of striking images and pithy or poignant writings. As the project unfolded, subtleties of contributor’s interactions with the physical qualities of the wall began to emerge;approaches to scale; relationships between fi gure and ground; qualities of surface; shadow and light; effects of weathering. The joints separating the individual panels of slate were of particular interest. In the prints, the joint lines serve as a reference, rendering scale and frame. The joints are variously emphasized and ignored by the contributor’s, but on the whole, seem to lend an approachability to the expanse of the Wall. Ultimately, however, the most engaging aspect of the writings and drawings was not their initial visual quality, impact, wit, ...

‘Utne Reader’ Showcases Greg and Will’s Article in ‘Free Inquiry’ about Campus Censorship

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

In its January/February 2011 issue, the Utne Reader summarizes Greg and Will's recent article in Free Inquiry about campus censorship against speech that is socially conservative, critical of fundamental Islam, and/or mocks the campus' politically correct culture. Some examples of censorship mentioned in the Utne Reader article were Yale University's decision to remove images of Muhammad from a book about censorship of those very cartoons and New York University threatening to ban a discussion about the Muhammad cartoons.

We at FIRE thank the Utne Reader for shedding much needed sunlight on these brazen violations of free speech. We must offer one correction, though. The column quotes Greg and Will as saying that Yale's actions violated the First Amendment when, in fact, Yale is a private university not required to uphold the Constitution. However, Yale's actions did betray its own exemplary stated commitment to freedom of expression, as well as a central purpose of an institution of higher learning, which is to teach students to think for themselves.

In 2010, ‘Naughty’ Words Led to Outsized Prosecutions on Campus

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

In my final blog of 2009, I wrote about the dramatic uptick in security fee-related cases at colleges and universities across the United States, including the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and University of California, Berkeley. Outside of my daily duties at FIRE, I can't claim to be the most adept trend watcher, though even I couldn't help noticing everyone and his mother reading Steig Larsson on the bus to work this year. So what did FIRE see a lot of in 2010? Well, at places like Clemson University, the University of Georgia (UGA), and Hinds Community College (HCC) in Mississippi, we saw the typical overreaction to "politically incorrect" speech extended into the realm of profanity and vulgarity, which (gasp!) are occasional features of the 21st century college campus.

At Clemson, student Wil Kirwan's trouble started in May 2010 after he declined an invitation from Clemson administrator Laura McMaster for his group Central Spirit to participate in a fall student organizations fair. Doubting the usefulness of Central Spirit participating in the fair, Kirwan told McMaster, "I would trust the advice of six [former Central Spirit presidents] that have been in my shoes and given ...

China Vows Net Phone Crackdown

Monday, January 3rd, 2011
Beijing may be moving to tighten censorship and protect state-owned companies.

Cartoon Shows Political Shift

Monday, January 3rd, 2011
An updated child hero now battles 'evils of the time' in China.

Nev. high court backs campaign-finance reporting rules

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

LAS VEGAS — The Nevada Supreme Court has rejected a claim by a former state Senate contender who says campaign-finance reporting requirements are unconstitutional.

The court said former candidate Carolyn Bauer was not protected by a constitutional right against self-incrimination when she refused to follow Nevada's Campaign Practices Act.

The Las Vegas Sun reported on Dec. 30 that the court said in Bauer v. Secretary of State that Fifth Amendment rights applied only to criminal matters.

Bauer was an Independent American Party candidate from Washoe County when she failed to file required campaign-finance reports during the 2002 election.

A district court judge ordered her to pay $37,525 in campaign fines, attorney fees and costs.

Student tossed from nursing program for Facebook post sues college

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A junior college in suburban Kansas City is defending its decision to kick out of its nursing program four students who posed for photos with a human placenta.

One of the students, Doyle Byrnes, has filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Kansas seeking to force Johnson County Community College to reinstate her before classes resume Jan. 19. She is seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.

Byrnes had posted one of the photos on Facebook.

The school has said the students could seek readmission in the fall and finish the program a year later in May 2012. But Byrnes is getting married in August and had planned to move to Virginia with her husband and to work there as a registered nurse.

The college's lead attorney, Mark Ferguson, said in an e-mail yesterday that Byrnes should accept the consequences of her actions.

The Kansas City Star reported that Byrnes and several other students were attending a lab course at Olathe Medical Center last November when one of them asked a nursing instructor for permission to photograph the placenta so they could share the experience on Facebook.

The lawsuit against the college and ...

Ohio judge drops newspaper website-comments suit

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

CLEVELAND — An Ohio judge taken off a high-profile murder trial has dropped her $50 million lawsuit against a Cleveland newspaper and reached an undisclosed financial settlement with an affiliated company that runs the publication's website, an attorney said Dec. 31.

Cuyahoga County Judge Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold and her adult daughter filed their lawsuit against The Plain Dealer, its parent company and the website operator in April over anonymous comments on the site that the newspaper said were traced to Saffold's personal e-mail.

The inflammatory comments concerned the case of Anthony Sowell, a man who has pleaded not guilty to charges in the killing of 11 women whose remains were found around his Cleveland home.

After the newspaper reported that the comments, including one critical of a Sowell attorney, had been connected to the judge, the defense team sought to have her removed from Sowell's case. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed to do so, saying her removal was needed to avoid the appearance of bias.

The judge denied posting the comments and said they came from her daughter, Sydney Saffold, using a joint family account.

The Saffolds sued, claiming that the defendants released confidential information in violation ...

Wyo. lawmaker wants to seal some autopsy info

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A Jackson lawmaker wants to change state law to specify that toxicology reports and some other information from autopsies should remain confidential unless a judge orders it released.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, is chairman of the state House Judiciary Committee. He said last week his bill would give guidance to county coroners, some of whom he said currently don't release any autopsy information, while others release everything they have.

Gingery's bill would require coroners to release a report called a verdict listing the person's cause of death. Anyone other than close relatives interested in receiving more information would have to get permission from a judge.

"There's a lot of confusion out there right now, and I think this might actually open up a lot of stuff," Gingery said. "Because right now, a lot of those coroners don't hand out anything."

Jim Angell, executive director of the Wyoming Press Association, said Dec. 28 it appeared Gingery's bill would generally codify the existing practices of most coroners in the state. Angell said he hasn't studied the bill closely yet.

Wyoming news media have gone to court to force the release of autopsy information in some cases, Angell said. But ...

2010 Trend Watch Update: Online Video

Friday, December 31st, 2010

At the beginning of this year EFF identified a dozen important trends in law, technology and business that we thought would play a significant role in shaping digital rights in 2010, with a promise to revisit our predictions at the end of the year. Now, as 2010 comes to a close, we're going through each of our predictions one by one to see how accurate we were in our trend-spotting. Today, we're looking back on Trend #7, On-line Video, where we predicted:

Like the print business, the television business is being radically disrupted by the Internet. The disparate and powerful industries affected — telco, cable, satellite, ISP, software, and production — are engaged in a battle for dominance. But as big business dukes it out, consumer rights risk being left behind. [...]

In 2010, expect industry to advance those initiatives, as well as to introduce new and similarly problematic schemes along the same lines. EFF, as usual, will be there to try to stop them.

DRM restrictions remained ubiquitous in on-line video this year, as well as in new Internet-connected high-tech TV appliances and the DVRs and other appliances that compete with them. When criticized over DRM, TV devicemakers and ...

Tibetan Writers Sentenced

Friday, December 31st, 2010
Jail terms handed down without any representations.

School learns lesson in Facebook case

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Florida student wins legal settlement after school suspended her for post criticizing a teacher.

Read David Hudson’s commentary on the case.

2010 Trend Watch Update: Web Browser Privacy

Friday, December 31st, 2010

At the beginning of this year EFF identified a dozen important trends in law, technology and business that we thought would play a significant role in shaping digital rights in 2010, with a promise to revisit our predictions at the end of the year. Now, as 2010 comes to a close, we're going through each of our predictions one by one to see how accurate we were in our trend-spotting. Today, we're looking back on Trend #12, Web Browser Privacy, where we predicted the following:

In the late 1990s, when the conventions for the modern web browser were being determined, certain expectations were established for web browser privacy. Users who wished to take extra measures to protect their privacy could simply choose to de-activate or limit their browser's use of cookies. This would protect them from most of the worst online tracking practices.

And that's how it remained for some time. Or so most web users thought.

As it turns out, corporations seeking to track individuals' use of the web were hard at work developing new and unexpected methods of profiling. For a long time, many of these methods either remained unexamined or were simply performed covertly and hidden ...

Donate to CBLDF Today For 2010 Tax Deduction!

Friday, December 31st, 2010

It’s not too late to support CBLDF and make the 2010 tax deadline. Donate now! Your gift today will keep us going in 2011.

Your tax-deductible donation will help us protect artists, retailers and readers whose First Amendment rights are threatened. You’ll also be giving us the resources we need to create important new tools to help protect the First Amendment rights of comics, including new tools for lawyers and librarians for defending graphic novels, and a customs guide for readers traveling with comics in their possession or on their devices.

Please give to CBLDF right now before the tax deadline at midnight. You’ll be investing in protecting comics First Amendment rights, and you’ll have a bigger tax deduction for 2010.

Thank you for your continued support – we look forward to serving you in 2011!

Buzz Aldrin sues trading-card company Topps

Friday, December 31st, 2010

LOS ANGELES — Former lunar astronaut Buzz Aldrin is not over the moon about the use of his photo on a series of trading cards.

The 80-year-old Aldrin sued Topps Inc. this week in federal court in Los Angeles, saying the company had unfairly profited from his historic achievement when they used an iconic photograph of Aldrin standing on the moon in a series of "American Heroes" trading cards.

Topps attorney Michael Kahn told the Los Angeles Times that the firm had a First Amendment right to include a factual description of the Apollo 11 mission and it included an image of Aldrin in his lunar suit because he is "an American hero."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and an order prohibiting Topps from marketing the cards.

Uyghur Student Sentenced to Death

Thursday, December 30th, 2010
A 19-year-old Uyghur becomes the second woman sentenced to die following ethnic violence last year.

Imperial Language Under Threat

Thursday, December 30th, 2010
Experts say fewer than 70 now speak the language of China's Qing Dynasty rulers.

Chinese Censorship Worsens in 2010

Thursday, December 30th, 2010
Retired Party officials and press-freedoms monitoring groups call for an end to strict media controls.

2010 Trend Watch Update: Global Internet Censorship

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

At the beginning of this year EFF identified a dozen important trends in law, technology and business that we thought would play a significant role in shaping digital rights in 2010, with a promise to revisit our predictions at the end of the year. Now, as 2010 comes to a close, we're going through each of our predictions one by one to see how accurate we were in our trend-spotting. Today, we're looking back on Trend #3, Global Internet Censorship, where we predicted the following:

For years, the obvious benefits of an uncensored Internet have kept advocates of Net blocking on the defensive. But new filtering initiatives in Australia and Europe combined with growing rhetoric around child protection, cybersecurity and IP enforcement means that blocking websites isn't just for authoritarian regimes any more.

That's not to say tyrants aren't paying close attention to the West's new censors. When democratic governments complain about Iran and China's net policing in 2010, expect defenses of "we're only doing what everyone else does".

2010 will see the publication of Access Controlled, a new book from the OpenNet Initiative chronicling the globalization of Internet censorship; we're excited to see it but concerned about ...

Judge strikes down NYC’s gruesome tobacco ads

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

NEW YORK — The city's campaign to scare smokers with grotesque images of decaying teeth or a diseased lung wherever tobacco products are sold was struck down yesterday by a federal judge who concluded that only the federal government can dictate warnings that must accompany the promotion of cigarettes.

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff handed a victory to the nation's three largest tobacco manufacturers and the retailers who sell their products when he ruled on the legality of a 2009 city Board of Health code change requiring the display of smoking-cessation signs where tobacco products are sold.

"Even merchants of morbidity are entitled to the full protection of the law, for our sake as well as theirs," Rakoff said. He released the written decision just days before an agreement among the parties to delay enforcement of the rule was to expire on Jan. 1.

He said the federal Labeling Act, first enacted in 1965, sought to balance public and commercial interests with a comprehensive federal program to deal with cigarette labeling and advertising. He said it was created in part to prevent "diverse, nonuniform and confusing cigarette labeling and advertising regulations." Part of the law dictated that no state ...

2010 Trend Watch Update: Fair Use of Trademarks

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

At the beginning of this year EFF identified a dozen important trends in law, technology and business that we thought would play a significant role in shaping digital rights in 2010, with a promise to revisit our predictions at the end of the year. Now, as 2010 comes to a close, we're going through each of our predictions one by one to see how accurate we were in our trend-spotting. Today, we're looking back on Trend #11, fair use of trademarks, where we predicted the following:

Parody and mockery have long been favorite tools for online political expression and activism. But the powerful entities being mocked sometimes lack a sense of humor about the situation. Increasingly, they're turning to trademark law to badger would-be jokers into silence.

Of course, abuse of copyright law, which governs ownership of content, is nothing new. But until recently, we haven't seen as much abuse of trademark law, which governs ownership of names and logos. Fair Use principles, which allow creative re-use of intellectual property, apply to trademarks just as they apply to copyrights. In either case, IP bullies are just as happy to ignore those principles and make bogus legal threats.

Recently, trademark threats ...

Hawaii governor wants more Obama birth info released

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

HONOLULU — Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie wants to find a way to release more information about President Barack Obama's birth and dispel conspiracy theories that he was born elsewhere.

Abercrombie, who was a friend of Obama's parents and knew him as a child, says he is deeply troubled by the effort to cast doubt on the president's citizenship.

The newly elected governor will ask the state attorney general's office about what can be done to put an end to questions about Obama's birth documentation from Aug. 4, 1961, spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said yesterday.

"Is it going to be done immediately? No, the first thing on our list is the economy," Dela Cruz said.

It's unclear what Abercrombie could do because Hawaii's privacy laws have long barred the release of a certified birth certificate to anyone who doesn't have a tangible interest.

Hawaii's health director said last year and in 2008 that she had seen and verified Obama's original 1961 vital records, and birth notices in two Honolulu newspapers were published within days of Obama's birth at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu.

But so-called "birthers" have not been satisfied with such assurances or the "Certification of Live Birth" ...

2008’s Court

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

David Savage of the Los Angeles Times and Adam Liptak of the New York Times both examined this week how president Obama’s two Supreme Court picks are changing the dynamic of the high court. “Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan,” writes Savage, “have joined the fray and reenergized the liberal wing.”

Gone are the mismatches where the Scalia wing overshadowed reserved and soft-spoken liberals like now-retired Justices David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens. Instead, the liberals often take the lead and press attorneys defending the states or corporations.

"They're clearly on a roll," said Washington attorney Lisa S. Blatt, who has argued regularly before the high court. "They are engaged and really active. It just feels like a different place."

That dynamic was on display this fall, when a court that leans conservative on cases of crime and punishment heard California's appeal in a case where a panel of three federal judges had ordered the release of about 40,000 prisoners. The state's lawyer stepped to the lectern with reason to expect a friendly reception.

The order is "extraordinary and unprecedented," Carter G. Phillips began, and "extraordinarily premature" because the state was not given enough time to solve its prison problems.