Tag Archives: law

Do something now: help change the daft defamation law on online publishing

Forget about turning your Twitter avatar green or adding a Twibbon, here’s something you can do today which can make a genuine difference to both professional journalists and bloggers: write to the Ministry of Justice as part of their consultation on defamation which has just a few weeks left:

“This consultation seeks views on the ‘multiple publication rule’ under which [people can be sued for every time a web article has been  accessed], and its effects in relation to online archives. The paper considers the arguments for and against the rule and the alternatives of a single publication rule.”

This consultation couldn’t have been published in a more user-unfriendly way. The consultation page consists mainly of a link to a PDF and a Word document (which was clearly written for an online form that was never created, even down to HTML coding).

There is no clear address to send your responses to. You’ll find it on the 4th line of the Word document. It’s defamationandtheinternet@justice.gsi.gov.uk. Don’t worry, I’ll repeat that again at the end of the post.

UPDATE: RightToReply.org have published the consultation in their trademark easy-to-respond form here.

Here’s what they’re asking (also hereherehereherehere and here), reproduced in a rather easier-to-navigate format and rephrased for slightly easier reading: Continue reading

Do blogs make reporting restrictions pointless?

The leaked DNA test on 13-year-old alleged dad Alfie Patten has revealed a big problem with court-ordered reporting restrictions in the internet age. (NB This is a cut down version of a much longer original post on blogging and reporting restrictions that was featured on the Guardian).

Court orders forbidding publication of certain facts apply only to people or companies who have been sent them. But this means there is nothing to stop bloggers publishing material that mainstream news organisations would risk fines and prison for publishing.

Even if a blogger knows that there is an order, and so could be considered bound by it, an absurd catch 22 means they can’t found out the details of the order – and so they risk contempt of court and prison.

Despite the obvious problem the Ministry of Justice have told me they have no plans to address the issue. Continue reading

BNP members names mapped – anonymity (and backs) protected

In the UK the leaking of a list of the members of far right party BNP online has created a classic new media problem for journalists: anyone can find the information, but no one in the mainstream media dare publish it for legal reasons… or can they? From Ewan McIntosh (via Stuart on the 38minutes blog):

“To republish the list would be illegal, so newspapers such as the Guardian printed the numerical stats on line-art maps. Far from breaking the law, it was crowdsourcing that came up with a better solution, both allowing us to see how many BNP-ers are on our doorstep without revealing their names and exact locations. Cue the anonymous, but powerful, BNP member Google Heatmap, which has since allowed our Government ministers to realise the pockets where local politics lets people down.”

Don’t make them disappear

Bas Timmers on the problems with updating on the web.

Imagine this: you read an exclusive breaking news article on a website that says Gordon Brown is about to resign voluntarily. An hour later you come back to that same site, same article, but it now tells you David Miliband is about to step down after an argument with Brown. What to believe now? Continue reading

Review: Online Journalism Ethics (Friend & Singer)

Book coverOnline Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions
Cecilia Friend and Jane B. Singer
ME Sharpe, 2007, 245 pp., ISBN 0765615738

On April 16, 2007, a 23-year-old man shot and killed 32 people at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. As the shootings were taking place students reported what was taking place on blogs, mobile phones, instant messaging, Flickr, Wikipedia, and social networks.

As they did so, journalists started arriving in search of information and reaction. Some “lurked”, taking what they found and publishing it elsewhere; others engaged in “digital doorstepping” – asking students for their experiences and feelings, or if they’d be willing to be interviewed on camera.

While traditional journalists saw the material as being ‘in the public domain’, many students reacted angrily to the invasion of what they saw as ‘their’ space. It was an example of worlds colliding, highlighting the new ethical challenges facing journalists as new media technologies enabled the distinction between public and private, and between publisher and audience, to collapse.

In this context, Friend and Singer’s book on the ethics of online journalism is hugely welcome. Continue reading

Cult of the Amateur author fails to do his homework

It’s hard not to feel some schadenfreude when you see ‘Cult of the Amateur’ author Andrew Keen demonstrating a particularly lazy bit of amateur blogging himself. Today’s entry, ‘Anonymity shouldn’t pay (even in Sheffield)’ reads:

“Finally anonymity on the Internet is being punished. The Guardian today reports on anonymous Sheffield Wednesday bloggers who are being sued by the club for their abusive comments. This is heartening news. It is only when anonymous bloggers are made legally liable for their views that the Internet will become a civilized medium for responsible adults.”

Except the case was not about bloggers at all. It was about anonymous posters on a messageboard.

Perhaps he only read the headline – ‘Warning to abusive bloggers as judge tells site to reveal names’ – not a particularly great example of professionalism itself.

I tried to post a comment correcting Keen, but I got an error message.


Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution (mirror copy) By Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin

The following is copied in its entirety from http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2007-10-18/news/breathtaking-abuse-of-the-constitution/print:

This newspaper and its editorial staff — both current and former — are the targets of unprecedented grand jury subpoenas dated August 24. Continue reading

Subpoena raises privacy danger for registration-based websites

This story on the arrest last night of Phoenix New Times owners Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin raises some real concerns for online privacy – in particular for news organisations who require readers to register in order to read.

“a grand jury subpoena was issued for information about the online readers of the paper.

“The authorities are also using the grand jury subpoenas in an attempt to research the identity, purchasing habits, and browsing proclivities of our online readership,” they wrote in their article, “Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution,” which was published yesterday. Continue reading

Don’t like a blog? Run to the blogger’s boss

Two similar stories are enough to make a ‘trend’ in journalese, so here’s one worrying trend in recent weeks to keep your eye on: complaints about bloggers being made to their employers.

On June 9 Ben Goldacre wrote in his Bad Science column/blog about one of the most eminent scientists in the UK, Professor David Colquhoun, being forced to remove his quackbusting blog from the UCL servers after “complaints from disgruntled alternative therapists”.

Then, last week, my colleague Andrew Dubber, who writes a popular blog about the music industry – New Music Strategies – was similarly threatened by Paul Birch of Revolver Records.

Dubber’s crime was not writing anything offensive to Birch, but simply linking to an article which Birch felt promoted “hatred of the recording Industry”. Now I am aware that promoting race hate is a crime, but hatred of the recording industry? Apparently that warrants a lawsuit.

Dubber, with Birch’s permission, published the correspondence in full. It began with the following email from Birch:

“I do think allowing indiscriminate criticism of the RIAA is inappropriate for a Government funded institution.”

Andrew pointed out that he is not an institution. Birch seemed to think otherwise:

“you are interwoven into the views and policy of the University of Central England and I think that puts you in an exposed positon Andrew.

“It might not be nice to be sued by the RIAA and potentially put in a position of being made bankrupt; neither is issuing redundancy notices to hard working staff. ” 

Not nice at all. Dubber asserted his right to link as follows:

“The way I see it is this: what I’m linking to is opinion about a news story. It’s genuine news and it’s legitimate opinion. You may not agree, but I don’t see anything there that warrants a take-down notice.

“I would never endorse hate speech or the encouragement of the victimisation of any individual no matter what their job. That link doesn’t even come close to either of those things.

“More importantly, as someone who comments about the industry, only linking to items that echo the official position of the major label organisations would pretty much make my site valueless to its readers.”

Paul’s stark response was to insist

“It expresses opinion, it’s not factual. If you persist then I shall make a formal complaint to the University.” 

Because of this threat the post got a mention on uber-blog Boing Boing and the resultant hits crashed Dubber’s site. The post also starting creeping towards the first page on Digg. Richard Esguerra from the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote with a useful list of links including a Legal Guide for Bloggers, Overview of Legal Liability Issues, Online Defamation Law, Privacy, and How to Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else). He also recommended the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse website, an “online informational resource that addresses Internet law issues”. In the UK, where laws are different, Dubber himself recommended Internet Freedom.

So will Birch complain? Will UCE take it seriously? Will Dubber get disciplined? Hopefully not. Although UCL were a bit rash to pull down Professor David Colquhoun’s blog (and Colquhoun perhaps should have hosted it externally, as Dubber does), they’ve since laudably reversed the decision. As Goldacre writes of the original complaint:

“His blog is the problem in hand, but I’ve heard Prof Colquhoun speak about quackery in UCL lecture theatres. Was the electricity, the publicity material, the room rent, a misuse of public funds and resources? I’ve done talks myself, in universities and schools: are they all guilty of wasting public money on robust, challenging, childish and sarcastic discussion of ideas?”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.