Category: Blogging


Welcome to the Blogosphere: 20th & H Blog by Dean Fred Lawrence

My dean, Fred Lawrence of George Washington University Law School, has started a new blog called 20th & H.  He writes:

20th and H was conceived as a place for me, as dean, to share with the GW Law community occasional thoughts about the Law School, legal education, and the legal profession, and to talk with you about some of the perspectives and insights I’ve gained through my work on campus and on the road.

Great idea!  Welcome to the blogosphere.

Fred has a recent post about laptops in the classroom:

For many of our students, the laptop has become almost an extension of their selves.  It’s how they take notes, research, write, and communicate; like it or not, those of us who were students in a pre-computer age simply can’t roll back the clock to a time when faculty members enjoyed the sight of rows of rapt faces and suffered at worse some inattentive doodling, note passing and an occasional nodding head.

Read more over at 20th & H.


Privacy and Tattletales

What happens when a commenter’s privacy expectations collide with a would-be tattletale? This recent news story raises that question, with some interesting facts.

The story began when a pseudonymous commenter stopped by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch site and left a vulgar comment in the reader commentary section. The site admin deleted the comment, and the commenter re-posted it. At this point, the site admin decided to do some basic sleuthing. He traced the commenter’s IP address to a local school, and then he alerted the school (which turned out to be the commenter’s employer) that the vulgar comment had originated from its IP address. The school’s sysadmin was able to trace it from there, and the commenter ultimately lost his job.

I don’t know that any legal privacy rights have been violated here. (Dan?) But this does seem like overreaching by the site admin. Penalties like comment deletion or even banning are within the norms of site administration. Ratting someone out to their boss? I’m not so sure. Read More


FTC and Blogger Disclosure Rules

As I argue in my essay Individual Branding the web presents important and amazing new possibilities for individuals to earn money and much of that potential will flow from one’s online reputation. In short, as one blogs or shares information in another form, one becomes a trusted source and can start extract money from those activities. I argue that those acts have the seeds of the possible destruction of Benkler’s world of sharing. Today the FTC has targeted a practice that arguably could increase the reliability of social network endorsements but will also upset many people.

As CNET reports, “Independent bloggers who fail to disclose paid reviews or freebies can face up to $11,000 in fines from the Federal Trade Commission, according to revisions to the agency’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” published Monday.” The FTC has not updated the Guidelines since 1980. The press release is here. The full text of the Guides are here (pdf). It is 81 pages, and I have not read it as yet but one thing people should know is that the effective date is December 1, 2009.

From the release it appears that the guides take am expansive view of what presents a moment to disclose “The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.” CNET suggests that celebrities and “mommy bloggers” could be in trouble under the new rules. (Here is my prediction on the riposte to come but that I don’t think is accurate: “The FTC hates moms. In a down economy and with more and more people needing new ways to earn, the FTC actions are a direct attack on the importance of moms.” Now back to our regularly scheduled blogging.)

There are a ton of oddly connected things here. First, I just blogged about CITP and its FedThread project. That project would allow one to track this sort of moment rather quickly. Second, I was just at the Works In Progress Intellectual Property Conference at Seton Hall (which was yet again an excellent conference and for which everyone at Seton Hall deserves many thanks) where Zahr Stauffer presented a fascinating paper called Novels for Hire: Branded Entertainment, Copyright and the Law that I think will have something to say about these changes. As one blog notes, the practice of giving journalists freebies is common. Zahr’s paper shows how advertising and novels have had a rather curious interaction over the years. I think the paper will help understand the way writing and advertising have co-existed in either good or bad ways at different times with the shift to blogging fitting in as part of that history. The paper should be available soon so keep an eye out for it.

Electronics and other big ticket items seem to be where the concerns are. I look forward to finding out whether book, film, and music reviewers have to tell readers whether they received a review copy of the book. In general if one only says nice things about a review subject, one might receive more books etc. I think that non-professional blogs and other online information sources such as rating systems and FaceBook will allow people to find out whether they should buy a product (i.e., one might use a personal network to ask whether a product is good). That practice could undercut the quiet payment model.

Here is a possible way to understand this turn of events. 1) Secret endorsements die out and full disclosure of what has been given is the norm. 2) Small bloggers and big agencies are no longer able to seem credible as reviewers. 3) If people want independent reviews, they must pay magazines or other pay sources who can afford to buy the review items and avoid the taint of being given free stuff. 4) The public does not want to pay and instead reads the blog reviews with the disclosures and augments the research with social networks and user ratings which are more difficult to fake and possibly more reliable. 5) Yet again paid, professional independent news and reviews seems to be squeezed out.


Cyber Civil Rights vs Privacy in the “Skanks in NYC” case

As Dan rightly notes, the recent court order unmasking the anonymous author of the “Skanks in NYC” blog raises serious privacy concerns. He elaborates on those concerns in his post, arguing that the court used too low of a standard, that the lawsuit may have been frivolous, and that anonymity needs greater protection. Dan links to CyberSLAPP, an EFF project which combats abusive lawsuits that seek to unmask anonymous critics of corporations or public figures.

CyberSLAPP’s site contains a spirited defense of a right of anonymous criticism which reads, in part:

Why is anonymous speech important?

There are a wide variety of reasons why people choose to speak anonymously. Many use anonymity to make criticisms that are difficult to state openly to their boss, for example, or the principal of their children’s school. The Internet has become a place where persons who might otherwise be stigmatized or embarrassed can gather and share information and support victims of violence, cancer patients, AIDS sufferers, child abuse and spousal abuse survivors, for example. They use newsgroups, Web sites, chat rooms, message boards, and other services to share sensitive and personal information anonymously without fear of embarassment or harm. Some police departments run phone services that allow anonymous reporting of crimes; it is only a matter of time before such services are available on the Internet. Anonymity also allows “whistleblowers” reporting on government or company abuses to bring important safety issues to light without fear of stigma or retaliation. And human rights workers and citizens of repressive regimes around the world who want to share information or just tell their stories frequently depend on staying anonymous sometimes for their very lives.

Is anonymous speech a right?

Yes. Anonymous speech is presumptively protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Anonymous pamphleteering played an important role for the Founding Fathers, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, whose Federalist Papers were first published anonymously. And the Supreme Court has consistently backed up that tradition, ruling, for example, that an Ohio law requiring authors to put their names on campaign literature was a violation of the First Amendment. Indeed, the Supreme Court has ruled that protecting anonymous speech has the same purpose as the First Amendment itself: to “protect unpopular individuals from retaliation and their ideas from suppression.”

Of course, any sensible person would be opposed to silencing today’s James Madisons or Alexander Hamiltons. Is this really the correct analogy here, though? Is Skanks in NYC like the Federalist Papers? Read More


Feminist Law Professors

I have long been a fan of the blog “” The blog does a stellar job of raising and discussing various issues, the content of the blog is sound and reasoned, and Ann Bartow, the founder of the website, has graciously cross-posted some of my posts on prostitution over the past couple years.

Therefore, when Bridget Crawford, another of the main posters on, asked if I wanted to be named on their list of “self-identified feminist law professors,” I was thrilled to be asked. The question was raised, however: What does the label “feminist law professor” mean? If I was going to self-identify as a “feminist law professor,” I wanted to be sure I fit within the definition.

The reality is that those who know me well might not immediately fit me within the category of “feminist law professor,” if we consider only the older stereotypes about what a feminist “looks like.” To wit, I have never taught “feminist legal theory” (though I could and would, happily), I am Catholic, I am fairly conservative, I have never been a member of NOW, I have been a member of the Federalist Society, I am not offended by some things that are clearly “gendered” (such as men opening doors for women), and I have never burned a bra.

That said, I support equality for all, and I engage in activities intended to support this goal. Indeed, one of the many things that troubles me about the legal profession is the fact that women make up roughly 50% of all law students but only about 19% of all law firm partners and less than 20% of all Supreme Court justices.

But does supporting equality for all make me a feminist law professor? If so, wouldn’t – in theory – most law professors be “feminist law professors?”

I realize that this blog post should be many paragraphs longer, to address the issues raised by my questions above. But even with a blog post five times the length of this one, I doubt I could do the questions justice. So I will end simply by observing that, while I am happy to be labeled a “feminist law professor,” it is interesting to me that the phrase is not easily defined.


Thank You and Blogging Rate

Many thanks to Dan and all the folks here at Concurring Opinions for again inviting me to guest blog. I cut my teeth guest blogging here and at (where I am still a regular guest blogger) three years ago, and it is nice to be asked back. Thank you.

My hope is to blog about at least the following topics while I am here:
1. Prostitution
2. Other People Who Have My Exact Name (Elizabeth A. Nowicki)
3. Corporate Governance, Shareholder Activism, and Boards of Directors
4. Delaware Jurists
5. New Orleans
6. Women in Legal Education

Note, however, that you should not expect me to blog with the speed and volume of someone like Blog Emperor Paul Caron, because my long-harbored reservations about the potential impact of blogging make me a bit of a slow poster. Since my first blogging days, I have worried about whether I could accurately convey in a blog post things like tenor, nuance, and jest, and my concern about this and other blogging issues (such as typos, grammar mistakes, being impolitic, failing to link to others, etc.) tends to slow me down. Given that the readership of this blog is huge, I am cautious about posting something that I have not vetted, edited, and re-written.

Similarly, I remember when another academic blogger posted on his blog about not securing a particular consulting project due to a position he had articulated on his blog. I do a bit of consulting, expert witness, and media work, so I try to be mindful about not committing on a blog to positions I might want to reconsider if I were asked to be an expert witness or to comment for the media. The notion that I might articulate a view on this blog that I might want to disavow 15 years from now makes me squeamish.

Moreover, as a general matter, I try to avoid even the potential for offending large constituencies in the legal or academic communities with something I have posted on a legal blog. For example, for several days, I have stewed over what, if anything, to post about the former Villanova Law School Dean and the prostitution situation. I caught the “news” about the prostitution situation right when it broke, so I could have beaten Caron for the title of “First Mainstream Legal Academic Blogger To Post On The Topic.” But my worry about posting something that might offend my friends at Villanova or members of the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education, of which I am currently the Chair, or colleagues in my religious community kept me standing down, gnashing my teeth, while Caron blogged the news. To be sure, I have blogged before about prostitution, multiple times, so it would be natural for me to chime in, but the notion that I could, with a single post, offend a huge range of people gives me pause. The internet should be used with care.

That said, the fastest post I ever drafted and posted was my post on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta. I read the Supreme Court’s opinion and drafted my post in the two-hour window I had between classes on the day the opinion was issued, and I did not have time to re-read my post and labor over editing because I had to rush off to teach my second class. Yet the post has been one of my most well-received posts, and people seem to think it is at least decent. So I suppose I need to revisit whether my reservations about blogging, which prevent me from becoming a prolific poster, are actually based in fact. (Then again, the fact that Heidi Hurd’s sarcastic e-mails have led to likely unappreciated press solidifies my belief that releasing words across the internet is dangerous business indeed.)

Regardless, I look forward to posting here.


Profile of SCOTUS Blog’s Tom Goldstein

goldstein-tomToday’s Washington Post has an interesting profile of SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein, a partner at Akin Gump and founder of SCOTUSBlog. From the article:

What makes the brash and balding 38-year-old such a hot media property is, the Web site he founded six years ago to obsessively track the high court. At 7:34 a.m. last Tuesday, an hour before news of the nomination leaked, he posted an essay on the likely lines of attack if President Obama picked Sotomayor. Had he guessed wrong, Goldstein says, he would have looked like “the world’s biggest idiot. I was out there on a limb.”

Three years ago, Goldstein joined the blue-chip Washington firm of Akin Gump, which also agreed to take on Scotusblog and is listed as the site’s host. Despite the unorthodox arrangement, Goldstein says his staff, which includes veteran Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston, has complete independence. “Lyle could write that our clients are completely insane and evil and there’d be nothing to stop him,” Goldstein says in his 12th-floor office with a sweeping view of the Washington Monument. . . .

A graduate of American University’s law school, Goldstein founded a small firm — soon joined by his wife — in the third bedroom of their Northwest Washington home. He pursued his goal, to become a Supreme Court practitioner, by cold-calling lawyers in cases that might be headed for high court review. Goldstein was denigrated by more credentialed members of the bar as an overeager ambulance chaser, but the strategy worked: He has argued 21 cases before the Supreme Court. (Goldstein still finances his old firm, which includes his wife and remains at his home, now in Chevy Chase, a few doors down from Chief Justice John Roberts. The firm is an Akin Gump subcontractor.)

White House officials had asked to consult Goldstein on the court vacancy, but by the time he returned from a weekend in Paris, Obama had made his choice. Determined not to miss the action, Goldstein canceled a meeting in Los Angeles with a top producer about a reality series based on his life, the rights to which were bought by Sony Pictures Television. (“They must be smoking crack,” Goldstein says.) A poker fanatic who plays with pots as large as $100,000, he also delayed plans to compete in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

For more, read the article.


On Being an Ambassador for Pittsburgh

By popular request, I’m posting this link to my brief appearance in this morning’s New York Times.  (Well, the link is popular in certain quarters, and I did receive a request to post it!)   The story has to do with tomorrow’s mayoral primary, in which Pittsburgh’s young mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, front man for an emerging Democratic Party machine that someday may do the elder Daley proud, is certain to defeat his two challengers, Patrick Dowd, current darling of local progressives, and Carmen Robinson, a well-liked but under-funded African American lawyer and former police officer.

For most purposes, neither the story nor the interview that preceded it have anything to do with my academic life, though the Times gives me credit for being a professor at Pitt Law.  Instead, the Times piece, like a recent interview that I gave Dutch TV (watch for it!) and a piece earlier this Spring for CNN (teased here, then preempted by the tragic death of a certain skiing actress and replaced by this blog post) are the products of what one Burghosphere colleague (Burghosphere is the extravagant name that we Pittsburgh bloggers have given ourselves) calls my status as an “ambassador” for the city.  My five-year-old blog about the many futures of Pittsburgh, Pittsblog, was one of the first local blogs, and while it now has plenty of company, it is still one of the dozen or so that try to bring a little light to the heat generated by Steelers and Penguins fandom.  Media search for light-generating media; they find me; I become a momentary local celebrity because I’m in the paper of record.  Rinse and repeat.

Still, underneath the hood, there is a connection to my research interests, whether or not you care about the Steel City itself. 

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Alexander Meiklejohn, Blog Comment Policies, and Free Speech

I read with interest a couple of weeks ago the discussion on this and other law professor blogs about comments policies – whether to allow comments, whether to moderate them, and when and whether to edit and/or delete them.  The discussion reminded me of Alexander Meiklejohn’s famous conception of free speech as a moderated town meeting, where the diversity and quality of discussion was more important than any individual right to speak.  Meiklejohn argued that “the First Amendment … is not the guardian of unregulated talkativeness” and that the free speech guarantee was “not that everyone shall speak, but that everything worth saying shall be said.”

I think something similar applies to the moderation of blog comments – moderation in the pursuit of good discussion is a healthy thing.   Of course, there is always the danger that thin-skinned or intellectually dishonest moderators might edit in order to come out better in an argument, but this risk is lessened by the fact that there are lots of blogs, and (at least in the case of law blogs) there is a fairly robust set of professional norms and reputational consequences operating in the background.  So I think blog comment policies (like the one on this blog) are perfectly fine (even though I there us some irony in that the blog comment policy having comments turned off!).  But like Meiklejohn’s moderator, as long as the discussion is being moderated constructively, there are real gains from numerous moderated discussions.  In fact, since different discussions can operate under different conditions of moderation, some discussions can be tightly moderated (ie, books and newspapers), others can have little or no moderation, and at the opposite extreme there is the wiki model, where even the statements of others are subject to revision and alteration.  A wide variety of discussions and forms of discussion is, I think, the key to a robust and healthy discourse.

One natural objection to this line of argument is that we’re not really talking about the First Amendment here, since all of the blogs and fora of discussion are private actors.  I’ve increasingly come to believe that the values of free discussion and debate are too important to be left to the First Amendment.  (I make a mild form of this argument here in a recent article).  Newspapers, blogs, email, water-cooler chats and other forms of relatively public and relatively private discussion are the building blocks of a vibrant expressive culture, and if we only think about free expression from the perspective of avoiding government anti-censorship, we are missing (at least) half of the world.  For this reason, I think discussions about issues like blog comment policies are centrally the concern of free expression, and such discussions can benefit immensely from a little First Amendment theory.

Blog comments are turned off from this post (just kidding!)


Exploring Commons Institutions

Thanks to Deven for the generous introduction and to Dan and the Co-Op team for inviting me to spend some time here this month.  The introduction intentionally saves space by not including a couple of things that I’ll talk about during my stay:  My other blogs, and my appointment as Research Dean at Pitt.  Both have something to do with my current work on commons institutions.  Over the course of this guest stint I hope to explain some of the connections and to generate suggestions and feedback that might help me see others.


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