Category: Media Law


FAN (First Amendment News, Special Series) Newseum Institute to Host Event on Cell Phone Privacy vs National Security Controversy


Starting today and continuing through mid-June, I will post a special series of occasional blogs related to the Apple iPhone national security controversy and the ongoing debate surrounding it, even after the FBI gained access to the phone used by the terrorist gunman in the December shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Gene Policinski

Gene Policinski

This special series is done in conjunction with the Newseum Institute and a major program the Institute will host on June 15, 2016 in Washington, D.C.

I am pleased to be working with Gene Policinski (the chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute) and Nan Mooney (a D.C. lawyer and former law clerk to Chief Judge James Baker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces) in organizing the event.

The June 15th event will be a moot court with seven Supreme Court Justices and two counsel for each side. The focus will be on the First Amendment issues raised in the case. (See below re links to the relevant legal documents).

→ Save the Date: Wednesday, June 15, 2016 @ 2:00 p.m., Newseum, Washington, D.C. (more info forthcoming).

The Apple-FBI clash was the first significant skirmish — and probably not much more than that — of the Digital Age conflicts we’re going to see in this century around First Amendment freedoms, privacy, data aggregation and use, and even the extent of religious liberty. As much as the eventual outcome, we need to get the tone right, from the start — freedom over simple fear. –Gene Policinski

Newseum Institute Moot Court Event

It remains a priority for the government to ensure that law enforcement can obtain crucial digital information to protect national security and public safety, either with cooperation from relevant parties, or through the court system when cooperation fails.Melanie Newman (spokeswoman for Justice Department, 3-28-16)

As of this date, the following people have kindly agreed to participate as Justices for a seven-member Court:

The following two lawyers have kindly agreed to serve as the counsel (2 of 4) who will argue the matter:

→ Two additional Counsel to be selected.  

Nan Mooney and I will say more about both the controversy and the upcoming event in the weeks ahead in a series of special editions of FAN. Meanwhile, below is some relevant information, which will be updated regularly.

Apple vs FBI Director James Comey

President Obama’s Statement

Congressional Hearing


Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 10.46.11 PM

Last Court Hearing: 22 March 2016, before Judge Sheri Pym



News Stories & Op-Eds


  1. Pierre Thomas & Mike Levine, “How the FBI Cracked the iPhone Encryption and Averted a Legal Showdown With Apple,” ABC News, March 29, 2016
  2. Bruce Schneier, “Your iPhone just got less secure. Blame the FBI,” Washington Post, March 29, 2016
  3. Katie Benner & Eric Lichtblau, “U.S. Says It Has Unlocked Phone Without Help From Apple,” New York Times, March 8, 2016
  4. John Markoff, Katie Benner & Brian Chen, “Apple Encryption Engineers, if Ordered to Unlock iPhone, Might Resist,” New York Times, March 17, 2016
  5. Jesse Jackson, “Apple Is on the Side of Civil Rights,” Time, March 17, 2016
  6. Katie Benner & Eric Lichtblau, “Apple and Justice Dept. Trade Barbs in iPhone Privacy Case,” New York Times, March 15, 2016
  7. Kim Zetter, “Apple and Justice Dept. Trade Barbs in iPhone Privacy Case,” Wired, March 15, 2016
  8. Alina Selyukh, “Apple On FBI iPhone Request: ‘The Founders Would Be Appalled,‘” NPR, March 15, 2016
  9. Howard Mintz, “Apple takes last shot at FBI’s case in iPhone battle,” San Jose Mercury News, March 15, 2016
  10. Russell Brandom & Colin Lecher, “Apple says the Justice Department is using the law as an ‘all-powerful magic wand‘,” The Verge, March 15, 2016
  11. Adam Segal & Alex Grigsby, “3 ways to break the Apple-FBI encryption deadlock,” Washington Post, March 14, 2016
  12. Seung Lee, “Former White House Official Says NSA Could Have Cracked Apple-FBI iPhone Already,” Newsweek, March 14, 2016
  13. Tim Bajarin, “The FBI’s Fight With Apple Could Backfire,” PC, March 14, 2016
  14. Alina Selyukh, “U.S. Attorneys Respond To Apple In Court, Call Privacy Concerns ‘A Diversion’,” NPR, March 10, 2016
  15. Dan Levine, “San Bernardino victims to oppose Apple on iPhone encryption,” Reuters, Feb. 22, 2016
  16. Apple, The FBI And iPhone Encryption: A Look At What’s At Stake,” NPR, Feb. 17, 2016

FAN 101.1 (First Amendment News) Merrick Garland, law clerk to Justice Brennan when Hutchinson v. Proxmire (1979) was decided

Today, President Obama nominated D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.

Chief Judge Merrick Garland

Chief Judge Merrick Garland

Judge Garland served as a law clerk to Second Circuit Judge Henry Friendly and thereafter as a clerk for Justice William J. Brennan. Garland’s clerkship at the Court was during the 1978-1979 Term.

During that Term the Court decided Hutchinson v. Proxmire (argued April 17, decided June 26, 1979). The vote was 8-1 with Chief Justice Warren Burger writing for the majority and Justice Brennan writing in dissent.

Facts in the Case: “In early 1975, Senator William Proxmire implemented what he called the “Golden Fleece Award of the Month.” The award was given out to governmental agencies which sponsored programs and research that Proxmire found to be a waste of tax dollars. One Golden Fleece went to federal agencies sponsoring the research of Ronald Hutchinson, a behavioral scientist. Proxmire detailed the “nonsense” of Hutchinson’s research on the floor of the Senate, in conferences with his staff, and in a newsletter sent to over 100,000 of his constituents. Hutchinson sued for libel, arguing that Proxmire’s statements defamed his character and caused him to endure financial loss.”

Issues: “The petition for certiorari raises three questions. One involves the scope of the Speech or Debate Clause; another involves First Amendment claims; a third concerns the appropriateness of summary judgment, embracing both a constitutional issue and a state-law issue.”

First Amendment Ruling: Petitioner is not a “public figure” so as to make the “actual malice” standard of proof of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan applicable. Neither the fact that local newspapers reported the federal grants to petitioner for his research nor the fact that he had access to the news media as shown by reports of his response to the announcement of the Golden Fleece Award, demonstrates that he was a public figure prior to the controversy engendered by that award. His access, such as it was, came after the alleged libel and was limited to responding to the announcement of the award. Those charged with alleged defamation cannot, by their own conduct, create their own defense by making the claimant a public figure. Nor is the concern about public expenditures sufficient to make petitioner a public figure, petitioner at no time having assumed any role of public prominence in the broad question of such concern.

Justice Brennan’s Dissent: “I disagree with the Court’s conclusion that Senator Proxmire’s newsletters and press releases fall outside the protection of the speech-or-debate immunity. In my view, public criticism by legislators of unnecessary governmental expenditures, whatever its form, is a legislative act shielded by the Speech or Debate Clause. I would affirm the judgment below for the reasons expressed in my dissent in Gravel v. United States (1972).”

Counsel in the Supreme Court:

  • Michael E. Cavanaugh argued the cause and filed a briefs for Petitioner.
  • Alan Raywid argued the cause and filed a brief for Respondents.

Amicus Briefs:

  • Bruce J. Montgomery and John D. Lane filed a brief for the American Psychological Association et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.
  • Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Richard M. Schmidt, Jr., for the American Society of Newspaper Editors et al.
  • Chester H. Smith for Warren G. Magnuson et al. Stanley M. Brand filed a brief for Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr., Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, et al.

FAN 101 (First Amendment News) Levine & Wermiel on First Amendment & Right of Publicity — Using Justices’ Papers to Understand Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co.

Zacchini offers little or no guidance in cases involving mere depictions of individuals, as opposed to appropriation of their actual performances in full. — Paul M. Smith (cert. petition in Electronic Arts v. Davis)

Nothing in the Court’s opinion [in Zucchini] suggested that its analysis would have been different had the news broadcast been limited to a five- or ten- second excerpt . . . . — Brian D. Henri (brief in opposition in Electronic Arts v. Davis)

Lee Levine

Lee Levine

Lee Levine and Stephen Wermiel are at again — digging in Justices’ personal papers to reveal how the law of a First Amendment case came to be, replete with surprises and insights.

First they started with a law review article: “The Landmark that Wasn’t: A First Amendment Play in Five Acts,” Wash. L. Rev. (2013), which gave rise to several commentaries.

Then came a book: The Progeny: Justice William J. Brennan’s Fight to Preserve the Legacy of New York Times v. Sullivan (2014). Now comes their latest work, “The Court & the Cannonball: An Inside Look,” American U. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2016).

In their latest work, Levine ( a seasoned media law lawyer & casebook author) teams up once again with Wermiel (law professor, Brennan Biographer & former WSJ reporter) to dig up the inside history of another First Amendment case — this time Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co. (1977), a 5-4 ruling.

The Facts: In 1972, Hugo Zucchini performed as a “human cannonball” at the Geauga County Fair in Burton, Ohio. In his act, Zucchini was shot out of a cannon and into a net 200 feet away. His performance lasted 15 seconds.  During one of these performances, a Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co. freelance reporter attended the fair, replete with a movie camera. Petitioner noticed the reporter and asked him not to film the performance. Respondent honored the request that day but returned the following day and videoed the entire act. This 15-second film clip was shown on the evening news, together with favorable commentary. Petitioner brought a tort action (right of publicity) for damages and Respondent raised a First Amendment defense, among other things.

See “Zucchini: Human Cannonball” documentary trailer

Prof. Stephen Wermiel

Prof. Stephen Wermiel

The issue in the case was: Do the First and Fourteenth Amendments immunize the Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co. from damages for its alleged infringement of an entertainer’s state-law right of publicity?

→ The Supreme Court Lawyers:

  • John G. Lancione argued the cause and filed a brief for Petitioner.
  • Ezra K. Bryan argued the cause for Respondent.

→ Judgment: 5-4 in favor the Petitioner. Justice Byron White wrote the majority opinion and Justices Lewis Powell and John Paul Stevens each wrote separate dissents.

→ Enter Levine & Wermiel: Here are a few excerpts from their forthcoming article:

“Although the 1977 ruling is often cited as holding that the right of publicity tort survives constitutional scrutiny under the First Amendment, an examination of the case and of the Supreme Court Justices’ available papers shows that the Court did not view the case as presenting the type of claim that has become prevalent today.”

Hugo Zacchini; human cannon ball; in position for great blast off.

Hugo Zacchini; human cannon ball; in position for great blast off.

“For the Supreme Court, the internal papers indicate the case was about the right of a performer/producer to control the display of his entire act. The Court was not focused on the more contemporary claim that athletes, celebrities, and others have a right to control the use by anyone else, especially for commercial purposes, of their name or their visual image. Nor did the Court’s ruling address the First Amendment issue raised in contemporary cases when a name or likeness is used in a creative work or other public communication. . . . .”

Conclusion: “If nothing else, the record of the Court’s deliberations in Zacchini appears to support the view that that decision does not purport to speak to the viability of a First Amendment-based defense to the kind of “right of publicity” claims asserted by contemporary plaintiffs seeking compensation for the use of their name, likeness, or even their performance, in the context of a video game, sporting event, news report or other creative work produced by someone else. To the contrary, the Court’s deliberations in Zacchini suggest that, at least in contexts where the asserted “right of publicity” is not akin to a claim for common law copyright, there is no basis to depart from traditional modes of First Amendment analysis and engage instead in the kind of ad-hoc balancing of state-created and constitutional rights . . .”

Judge Srinivasan on Free Speech Read More


FAN 99.4 (First Amendment News) Reporters Committee, “The Justice & the First Amendment: Justice Scalia’s role in press freedom cases”

2016-winter-coverThe Winter 2016 issue of the The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press journal has just been posted. The contents of the issue are set out below.

Editors: Bruce D. Brown, Gregg P. Leslie & Debra Gersh Hernandez


— Ronald Collins, “When five became four: Justice Scalia’s contribution to the law of free speech

— Reporters Committee letter, “Six degrees of Antonin Scalia

Reporter’s Privilege

— Michael Lambert, “Stopping an end-run around the reporter’s privilege

Freedom of Information 

— Caitlin Vogus, “Private email, government business

Prior Restraints 

— Kevin Delaney, “Near at 85: A look back at the landmark decision


FAN 99.2 (First Amendment News) Trump on Libel Law & Freedom of the Press

Mr. Trum speaking at Texas rally

Mr. Trum speaking at Texas rally

Yesterday, Donald Trump spoke at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas. According to Politico, in the course of that rally he took aim at the New York Times and the Washington Post — those “dishonest” publications.  He then elaborated on what he planned to do to change the law of libel:

“One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” (video clip here)

* * *

From FAN 78 (Sept. 23, 2015):

Alan Garten, executive vice president & general counsel to The Trump Organization

Alan Garten, executive vice president & general counsel to The Trump Organization

Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s lawyer, Alan G. Garten, is helping his boss retaliate against the Club for Growth’s TV ads attacking Mr. Trump’s record on taxes. According to a New York Times story, Mr. Garten “sent a two-page letter to the group’s president, David McIntosh, accusing it of trying to damage Mr. Trump’s reputation by lying about his policies. The threat of litigation comes a week after the group started a $1 million advertising campaign that paints Mr. Trump as a disingenuous politician who intends to impose a huge tax increase if elected president.”

Here are some excerpts from Mr. Garten’s September 21, 2015 letter:

“Simply stated, your attack ad is not only completely disingenious, but replete with outright lies, false, defamatory and destructive statements and downright fabrications, which you fully know to be untrue, thereby exposing you and your so-called ‘club’ to liability for damages and other tortious harm. For example, while your Attack Ad blatantly misrepresents to the public that Mr. Trump ‘supports higher taxes,’ nothing could be further from the truth. To be clear, Mr. Trump’s tax plan, which is scheduled to be released later this wek, supports a lowering of taxes. . . .”

“In the interest of avoiding what will certainly be a costly litigation process, we are prepared to offer you the one-time opportunity to rectify this matter by providing us with your prompt written assusrances that (i) you have stopped running the Attack Ads; and (ii) you will not generate or disseminate any misleading or inaccurate information or make any factually baseless accusations you know to be untrue with respect to my client at any point in the future. In the event, however, we do not promptly receive these assurances, please be advised that we will commence a multi-million dollar lawsuit against you personally and your organization for your false and defamatory statements and the damage you have intentionally caused to my client’s interests as well as pursue all other remedies available to us at law or in equity. [ ¶ ] Please be guided accordingly.” [Video of Club for Growth ad here.]

* * *

Eugene Volokh, “Donald Trump says he’ll ‘open up libel laws’,The Volokh Conspiracy (Feb. 26, 2016)

Matea Gold, “Bush PAC attorney to Trump counsel: You may want to try learning election law,” Washington Post (Dec. 9, 2015)

FAN 78: “Alan Garten, Trump’s Lawyer, Threatens ‘Multi-million dollar’ Lawsuit for Attack Ads Against His Client” (Sept. 23, 2015)

Abrams & Collins, “Confronting Trump — An American Debate Censorship Cannot Stop” (Dec. 18, 2015)


Not Found, Forbidden, or Censored? New Error Code 451 May Help Figure It Out

When UK sites blocked access to the Pirate Bay following a court order the standard 403 code error for “Forbidden” appeared, but a new standard will let users know that a site is not accessible because of legal reasons. According to the Verge, Tim Bray proposed the idea more than three years ago. The number may ring a bell. It is a nod to Bradbury’s Farenhiet 451. There some “process bits” to go before the full approval, but developers can start to implement it now. As the Verge explains, the code is voluntary. Nonetheless

If implemented widely, Bray’s new code should help prevent the confusion around blocked sites, but it’s only optional and requires web developers to adopt it. “It is imaginable that certain legal authorities may wish to avoid transparency, and not only forbid access to certain resources, but also disclosure that the restriction exists,” explains Bray.

It might be interesting to track how often the code is used and the reactions to it.

Here is the text of how the code is supposed to work:

This status code indicates that the server is denying access to the
resource as a consequence of a legal demand.

The server in question might not be an origin server. This type of
legal demand typically most directly affects the operations of ISPs
and search engines.

Responses using this status code SHOULD include an explanation, in
the response body, of the details of the legal demand: the party
making it, the applicable legislation or regulation, and what classes
of person and resource it applies to. For example:

HTTP/1.1 451 Unavailable For Legal Reasons
Link: ; rel=”blocked-by”
Content-Type: text/html

Unavailable For Legal Reasons

Unavailable For Legal Reasons

This request may not be serviced in the Roman Province
of Judea due to the Lex Julia Majestatis, which disallows
access to resources hosted on servers deemed to be
operated by the People’s Front of Judea.

Interview on The Black Box Society

BBSBalkinization just published an interview on my forthcoming book, The Black Box Society. Law profs may be interested in our dialogue on methodology—particularly, what the unique role of the legal scholar is in the midst of increasing academic specialization. I’ve tried to surface several strands of inspiration for the book.


James Risen and the reporter’s privilege status quo

Many thanks to Danielle, Frank, and the Concurring Opinions crew for inviting me to guest blog this month. As Danielle mentioned, I’m primarily an IP and media law guy, and I anticipate blogging about things like Aereo, trolls, and the future of newsgathering. (Like Harry, I can be found commenting on lots of other things @bradagreenberg.) I start today with a reporter’s ability to protect the identity of confidential sources…

This week the Supreme Court denied the petition of New York Times investigative reporter James Risen. For years, Risen has fought government efforts to compel disclosure of whether a former CIA official was Risen’s source for a story about a botched CIA plot to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear agency. Risen included this confidential information in his 2006 best-selling book State of War. The former CIA official is being prosecuted for leaking to Risen, and, last July, the Fourth Circuit ruled that Risen must testify at the trial. In a last gasp, Risen petitioned the Supreme Court, asking whether  journalists in a federal criminal trial have a qualified constitutional privilege against revealing confidential sources or should have a common law privilege under Federal Rule of Evidence 501.

The Court having declined to answer this question, Risen now faces testifying or being held in contempt. (Or he must throw himself on the “hinted” mercy of the Justice Department.) This is a great tragedy for a great journalist. But it is not necessarily a great tragedy for great journalism.

Risen’s appeal was a case of Be Careful What You Wish For.

At the core of Risen’s protest is the often-mistaken belief that reporters cannot be compelled to disclose their confidential sources. The Supreme Court first addressed this question forty-two years ago in Branzburg v. Hayes, in which the Court effectively split 4-1-4 on whether journalists had a constitutional privilege against compelled disclosure. The majority opinion held that journalists do not.

But Branzburg did not foreclose such protections. State courts have long shielded media from compelled disclosure, with forty-nine states and the District of Columbia offer varying statutory or common law protections. And Justice Powell’s concurrence suggested that journalists might have a constitutional privilege on different facts, particularly if the subpoena had not been issued by a grand jury. Since then, the circuit courts have recognized a variety of protections: “nine circuits have acknowledged, and only the Sixth Circuit has rejected, a qualified privilege for confidential information in civil cases, and … four circuits extend the privilege in criminal cases and some over non-confidential information in civil cases.” (That’s from this essay about the flawed Free Flow of Information Act of 2013; the federal media shield folly was also mentioned in my previous guest visit.) The result has been that journalists get different levels of protection in different jurisdictions—but in most jurisdictions they get some protection.

Had the Supreme Court agreed to hear Risen’s petition, it is likely that there would be uniformity regarding compelled disclosure of journalists’ confidential info. (It is unclear whether that uniformity would have been limited to confidential sources or would have extended to nonconfidential notes, unused materials, journalist observations, etc.) That uniformity could have increased protections and thereby decreased disincentives to sharing sensitive or confidential information.

Yet, in many circuits the uniformity might cut the other way, restating Branzburg in a manner that results in a weaker media shield. In fact, this seems more likely. In a post-legacy-media era in which people do journalism but aren’t necessarily journalists, legislators and judges have found it so difficult to determine to whom a reporter’s privilege should apply. (The debate over the federal media shield bill is paradigmatic. See n.5.) In this context, it is unlikely the Supreme Court would be willing to establish a broad reporter’s privilege—and in a national security case, for that matter.

Of course, just because the government can compel Risen to testify, does not mean that it should. The spirit of the First Amendment suggests otherwise…


ROUNDUP: Media Law 05.07.2014


Non-traditional media is the focus today. First up is “net neutrality.” The Federal Communications Commission refers to net neutrality as the Open Internet, and had promulgated a rule back in 2010 designed to promote it. Under the principle of net neutrality, service providers cannot discriminate among users or information providers in terms of price or quality of service.  Because many Internet service providers are cable companies, for example, they are not traditional “common carriers,” (telephone companies, for example), and don’t come under the same kind of FCC regulation as do telephone companies. Therein lies the problem for the FCC.

Verizon challenged the FCC’s statutory authority to regulate it and other non-traditional Internet service providers under the principle of net neutrality, bringing a suit in federal court. On January 14, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with Verizon that the agency had exceeded its authority. Several of the FCC Commissioners are now considering whether another stab at regulation is a wise idea. Commissioner Ajit Pai has testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Govenrment of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations that he thinks net neutrality is an “unnecessary distraction,” and that other FCC priorities, including auctioning off more of the spectrum as required under the Spectrum Act,  are more important. FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, by contrast, has issued a statement saying he intends to offer revamped rules that respond to the Verizon decision. He says in part, “We will carefully consider how Section 706  might be used to protect and promote an Open Internet consistent with the D.C. Circuit’s opinion
and its earlier affirmance of our Data Roaming Order. Thus, we will consider (1) setting an enforceable legal standard that provides guidance and predictability to edge providers,
consumers, and broadband providers alike; (2) evaluating on a case-by-case basis whether that  standard is met; and (3) identifying key behaviors by broadband providers that the Commission would view with particular skepticism.” Many FCC watchers have reacted with, at best, skepticism, even though they have not yet seen the proposal, which the FCC will consider at its May 15 meeting. The FCC has opened up a digital “in box” to accept public comments here.

On April 3, the European Parliament threw its weight behind net neutrality, voting to adopt a net neutrality proposal which would provide equality for end users and end roaming charges by 2016.

On April 2, the Writers Guild and Hollywood’s movie producers (the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP) reached a three year deal that spells out some important guarantees for writers on scripted shows, including a guaranteed salary increase, payments into pension funds, and agreements with regard to streaming. Members of WGA must still vote on the contract, but industry watchers seem to think that the vote will be much less contentious than that in 2008, for example, which followed on a more than 3 month strike. That ugly negotiation was the first during which new media became an issue for both sides. David Robb discusses the long term effects of the WGA strike here. The Writers Guild members voted overwhelmingly to ratify the contract (98.5 percent to 1.5 percent) at the end of April. Up next, the SAG/AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists) negotiations with AMPTP. While SAG and AFTRA are now one union, the two still have separate contracts with AMPTP.

Read More