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January 14th, 2014

Announcing Two New FIRE Job Opportunities in Washington, D.C.

FIRE is pleased to announce two new exciting job opportunities, both located in Washington, D.C.. The two openings are Executive Assistant to the President and Communications Coordinator. These positions, described in full at their respective links, are excellent opportunities for anyone interested in working to protect student and faculty rights on college campuses.

Not to worry, Philadelphia: FIRE is still keeping our headquarters in Philly, just blocks from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell! We just realized that it’s time for us to open a small satellite office in our nation’s capital. We’re in the process of looking for office space in the district, so if you have any leads, please let us know

If you’re interested, don’t hesitate to submit your application! Positions at FIRE tend to fill quickly. Also, if this job opportunity is not for you, but you know someone who may be interested, please pass along this announcement.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Image: “Now Hiring Sticky Note” -Shutterstock

FIRE - The Torch

January 14th, 2014

Two Months Left to Apply to FIRE’s Paid Summer Internship!

Even though the new semester is just starting, it’s not too early to make summer plans. If you’re a college student and you’re passionate about students’ First Amendment rights, then you should consider spending your summer with FIRE!

FIRE’s Summer Internship is an eight-week, paid program that offers current undergraduates the opportunity to assist FIRE in defending civil liberties on campuses all across the country. FIRE interns do substantive work and participate in weekly seminars with FIRE staff and other experts on freedom of expression, due process, and much more.

The internship takes place in FIRE’s Philadelphia office from Monday, June 9, through Friday, August 1. We will accept applications until March 14, 2014 and consider them on a rolling basis. Click here for more information or email internships@thefire.org with any questions.

And law school students, be sure to check out our Legal Internship

All eligible students are encouraged to apply for this great opportunity!

Image: FIRE's 2013 intern class 

FIRE - The Torch

January 14th, 2014

Court of Appeals Ruling Kills Net Neutrality

locking-internet-access2In a 2-1 ruling today, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals effectively ended net neutrality, striking down the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order.

The FCC’s order was intended to keep broadband providers from interfering with traffic on the Web. The issue of who should regulate internet access has been the subject of much debate in the last decade.

NCAC believes net neutrality allows us to access and share content in a fair and open environment. Our society has come to rely on that ability in order to communicate with friends, customers and constituents.

Net neutrality advocates (including NCAC) are concerned about what might happen, now that government oversight no longer exists to keep broadband providers honest. As this report on CNET explains:

“a broadband provider, such as Comcast, may purposely slow down traffic from an Internet company, such as Netflix, that uses its network to deliver services. In this case, Comcast could slow down the video streams of Netflix, making it impossible for Comcast broadband customers to use this service, which competes against Comcast’s own on-demand video service.”

The absence of net neutrality opens the danger of a hierarchy of access based on levels of payment, or – worse – ...

Blogging Censorship

January 14th, 2014

Virginia Bill Would Eliminate Unconstitutional ‘Free Speech Zones’

As Torch readers know, too many public colleges and universities are confused about what it means to regulate the “time, place, and manner” of student and faculty speech on campus, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has explicitly set forth the requirements for such regulations. Recognizing the critical importance of free speech on college campuses, last week Virginia Delegate Scott Lingamfelter introduced a bill to be considered by the Virginia House of Delegates that would explicitly prohibit Virginia’s public universities from misusing the “time, place, and manner” rubric to confine expressive activity to small or remote areas of campus.

HB 258 reads:

Public institutions of higher education shall not impose restrictions on the time, place, and manner of student speech that (i) occurs in the outdoor areas of the institution's campus and (ii) is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution unless the restrictions (a) are reasonable, (b) are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, (c) are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and (d) leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.

The language of provisions (b)–(d) tracks the Supreme Court’s decision defining “reasonable time, place, or ...

FIRE - The Torch

January 14th, 2014

Teachers: Don’t Miss These 2013 Graphic Novels

boxersaintsOne of our missions here at CBLDF is promoting the use of comics and graphic novels in schools — hence our publications Raising a Reader and CBLDF Presents Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices, as well as Meryl Jaffe’s column Using Graphic Novels in Education. So, we were thrilled to see the Washington Post’s comics blogger Michael Cavna recently feature 10 graphic novels from 2013 that should be embraced by educators to “smartly employ the resources of visual learning.”

Cavna’s essay is inspired by the experience of a young relative, whose grade school teacher forbade her from doing a book report on David Hall’s Stitches – or even reading it in the classroom — because “Graphic. Novels. Aren’t. Books.” Although he notes that this attitude is increasingly rare, Cavna argues that more graphic novels deserve to be not simply tolerated as leisure reading, but incorporated into the curriculum. After all, he says:

Why not use every effective teaching tool at our disposal? Decades of studies have shown the power of visual learning as an effective scholastic technique. Author Neil Gaiman…recently noted that comics were once falsely accused of fostering illiteracy. We now know that comics ...

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

January 14th, 2014

It’s a Bad Week to be a Patent Troll: Big Updates from New York and Newegg

Patent trolls are having a bad week. Today the New York Attorney General announced it had reached a settlement with MPHJ, the so-called scanner troll. That deal, not entirely unlike the one already in place in Minnesota, is great news for New Yorkers who have found themselves facing the notorious patent troll as well as anyone planning to do business in the Empire State. The settlement itself requires that the scanner troll actually investigate before it sends threatening demand letters and prohibits it from bothering businesses it has already contacted. Even better, the settlement allows those who've already taken a license from MPHJ to get a refund.

The actual settlement document itself is quite an interesting read—it lays out in some detail just how shady MPHJ really is. For instance, MPHJ sent more than 1,000 demand letters to New Yorkers alone (which means it must have sent at least tens of thousands of letters nationwide!) and more than 300 draft complaints despite the fact that it has never sued anyone in that state.

New York's Attorney General deserves credit for protecting its state's businesses and creators by shutting down one of the worst patent trolls. It joins not ...


January 14th, 2014

Grand Valley State Administrators Attack Newspaper Staff for Criticizing Donor Handling

It is no secret that many colleges and universities are heavily reliant on the financial generosity of alumni, and often even large corporate or institutional interests. While this is not itself necessarily problematic, it can serve as a terrible incentive for administrators to stifle speech that might offend financial supporters or otherwise dissuade them from giving. The very real nature of this risk was made clear with a startling report today from the Grand Valley Lanthorn, a student newspaper, about the reprehensible actions of administrators at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Michigan. 

On December 5, the Lanthorn published an editorial opposing GVSU’s increasing practice of naming buildings, rooms, and other objects on campus after private donors. The editorial raised concerns that excessive entanglement with private money could result in the school prioritizing donor relationships over the primary educational mission of GVSU, and perhaps even inhibiting freedom of speech and academic freedom for the sake of appeasing private donors.

Apparently, some GVSU administrators lack a sense of irony. Shortly after the Lanthorn ran the editorial, three high-level administrators reportedly contacted Editor-in-Chief Lizzy Balboa via her personal cell phone and her student email account in order to register their displeasure. ...

FIRE - The Torch

January 14th, 2014

The Law Belongs In the Public Domain

In the week leading up the two-year anniversary of the SOPA blackout protests, EFF and others are talking about key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day, we'll take on a different piece, exploring what’s at stake and and what we need to do to make sure the law promotes creativity and innovation. We've put together a page where you can read and endorse the principles yourself. Let's send a message to DC, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Brussels, and wherever else folks are making new copyright rules: We're from the Internet, and we're here to help.

For nearly two centuries it has been a basic precept that the law lives in the public domain. It’s simple: in a democratic society, people must have an unrestricted right to read and speak their own laws. Full stop.

Of course, that principle means the law can never be subject to copyright restrictions. If any single entity owns a copyright in the law, it can buy, sell or ration the law, and make all sort of rules about when, where, and how we share it. People should never have to pay a fee to review and compare the rules and regulations they must ...


January 14th, 2014

Cartoonist Challenges Authority in Tunisia

Tunisian blogger and cartoonist _Z_ didn’t sit back when he saw his government catering to the wealthy elite at the risk of the general public and fragile ecosystem in Tunis. Not long after _Z_ began his crusade against government corruption, authorities tried to shut him down. Fortunately, _Z_ and his followers proved more technically savvy than the government.

_Z_ has chosen to remain anonymous because Tunisia has a history of censoring cartoonists, bloggers, and those who oppose the government. In 2012, Tunisian citizen Jabeur Mejri was sentenced to seven years in jail after sharing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Facebook. Tunisian rapper Weld El 15 (real name, Ala Yaakoubi) fled the country after he was targeted for a video that protested the use of excessive force by police. He was sentenced to two years prison in absentia.

Authorities thought they had caught _Z_ when they arrested a female blooger named Fatma after she posted several of his cartoons. Fatma was released after _Z_ released a cartoon featuring a flamingo — _Z_’s symbol — declaring “I am not Fatma.”

PRI’s The World recently spoke with _Z_ about his cartoons, which frequently target Tunisia’s overwhelmingly Islamic government that was elected in ...

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

January 13th, 2014

TomDispatch on Surveillance Abuses, Past and Present

This is a good, concise history of abuses by the intelligence community and offers a great argument against warrantless surveillance.

 Without that break-in by the Media 8, J. Edgar Hoover’s “shadow FBI,” a criminal conspiracy at the heart of a developing national security state, might never have been revealed.  (The CIA, officially banned from domestic spying on Americans, turned out to be involved in massive surveillance as well.)

As a reporter at the Washington Post, Betty Medsger received some of the stolen documents and helped break the story back in 1971.  Now, in her new book, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, several of those involved in the Media 8 break-in have finally identified themselves. In her personal account in the Guardian, one of the eight, Bonnie Raines, writes this of her modern counterpart: “Snowden was in a position to reveal things that nobody could dispute. He has performed a legitimate, necessary service. Unlike us, he revealed his own identity, and as a result, he’s sacrificed a lot.”

We particularly like the last part, debunking 10 myths about the NSA’s activities.

2) If I’ve done nothing wrong, I have nothing to hide. So ...

Blogging Censorship