More Legal Stupidity – Brought to you by “The Innocence of Muslims”

October 7, 2012

The Innocence of Muslims seems to be the place wehre really stupid free speech positions intersect with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In the latest installment, we have the dumbest copyright infringement suit filed by anyone whose name does not end in “haven.”

Actress Cindy Lee Garcia appeared in the now-infamous online film “The Innocence of Muslims.” She first filed a lawsuit in California state court, trying to get a state judge to order YouTube to remove the film from publication. (Complaint) She claimed that the director told her that she would star in a “desert adventure film,” but the actual movie was one in which the Prophet Mohammed appeared to perform cunnilingus on Garcia’s character. The state court judge refused to pull the film, and opined that Garcia was not likely to prevail on the merits of her lawsuit. (Order). Garcia then dropped her case and re-filed in federal court. Her complaint is attached. [PDF]

For the purposes of this piece, let us presume that Ms. Garcia was indeed duped and that she had no idea that she was going to appear in such a movie. If that is the case, she might have claims for fraud; she might have claims for unfair business practices; she might even have a valid claim under some other theory.

However, this article is about the truly moronic claim that her lawyers decided to bring – copyright infringement.

Before we even get into that claim, let’s take a look at the press release that came out along with the complaint. I guess her lawyers live by the credo of making sure to yell “look y’all, watch this!” before doing something completely stupid.

“We are seeking the legally appropriate mechanism and the least politically controversial one to allow Google and YouTube to do the right thing,” according to M. Cris Armenta, counsel to Ms. Garcia. “Again, this is not a First Amendment case. But, the First Amendment does protect American’s [sic] rights to freedom to express, and also the right to be free from expression.” In Ms. Garcia’s case, the words that were dubbed over her performance were not hers and she finds them personally and profoundly offensive. Ms. Garcia has publicly stated worldwide, including in live broadcasts to Middle Eastern television stations that she does not condone the message in the film and would never willingly participate in such a hateful venture.

You get that? This is not a First Amendment case. Why not? Because M. Cris Armenta says it isn’t. That might make her feel better as she is sitting around her conference room table, but it doesn’t make it so. Of course, someone with their head so far up their ass that they believe that the First Amendment protects “the right to be free from expression,” probably looks really funny sitting at a conference room table – what with the head in the ass and all.

Ms. Garcia “filed an application for a federal copyright registration for the rights in her dramatic performance ‘Desert Warrior.'” (Complaint at ¶ 11) Further, she “has issued five DMCA ‘takedown notices’ to Defendants YouTube and Google.” (Complaint at ¶ 13) But let us all remember, “this lawsuit is not an attack on the First Amendment, nor on the right of Americans to say what they think, but does request that the offending content be removed from the Internet because not only is it not speech protected by the First Amendment, it violates Plaintiff Garcia’s copyright in her performance.” (para 29) How convenient. It is not an “attack on the First Amendment” because Ms. Garcia’s lawyers cleverly simply declare that the content is “not speech.” Meanwhile, I guess that she owns the copyright in the film because she filed an application for a registration.

The press release sent out by Garcia’s lawyers claims that the attorneys responsible for this monstrosity were “previously affiliated” with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP and both are former federal law clerks. What does that tell you? Being at the top of your class doesn’t mean that you don’t have shit for brains. Those of you attending TTT law schools take note. While chances are that your counterparts at the T14 did better on the LSAT, it doesn’t mean that you can’t wipe the floor with them when it comes to really practicing law.

Ms. Armenta and Ms. Sol’s complaint really is a piece of crap that no worthwhile attorney would have signed. Not only do the claims expose them as abject idiots, but the complaint exposes their client to a serious potential downside. First and foremost, Ms. Garcia most certainly does not own the copyright that she claims to. Thus, she does not have standing to bring this claim under the Copyright Act. This is not some obscure issue that it takes an IP law expert to figure out, but is clear from the plain language of 17 U.S.C. § 501(b), limiting actions for infringement to legal or beneficial owners of a registered work. When you don’t own anything, you don’t get to sue. Incredibly, Garcia filed suit in a court residing within the Ninth Circuit – which means there’s a small mountain of precedent examining this exact issue with a fine point. Sybersound Records, Inc. v. UAV Corp., 517 F.3d 1137, 1146 (9th Cir. 2008); Silvers v. Sony Pictures Entm’t, Inc., 402 F.3d 881, 889-90 (9th Cir. 2005); Righthaven LLC v. Hoehn, 792 F. Supp. 2d 1138 (D. Nev. 2011).

Welcome to the Pwn-Dome.

An actor’s performance in a film is not an independently copyrightable work. I am surprised that these two attorneys are unfamiliar with this rule of law. They might be well-served to review Aalmuhammed v. Lee, 202 F.3d 1227 (2000). You know, the case that is in pretty much every single copyright textbook published since before the Clinton administration ended. Jesus fucking christ, is it so much to ask that someone take a copyright course before filing a copyright infringement lawsuit?

Anyhow, back to Aalmuhammed v. Lee: In that case, Mr. Aalmuhammed contributed a significant amount of work to the Spike Lee movie, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Mr. Aalmuhammed sought to be deemed to be a co-author of the film. However, the Ninth Circuit held:

Aalmuhammed did not at any time have superintendence of the work. Warner Brothers and Spike Lee controlled it. Aalmuhammed was not the person “who has actually formed the picture by putting the persons in position, and arranging the place ….” Spike Lee was, so far as we can tell from the record. Aalmuhammed, like Larson’s dramaturg, could make extremely helpful recommendations, but Spike Lee was not bound to accept any of them, and the work would not benefit in the slightest unless Spike Lee chose to accept them. Aalmuhammed lacked control over the work, and absence of control is strong evidence of the absence of co-authorship.

Under the law, the director of the film (and not any other contributor) is the author of the work. Not the consultants, not the actors, and not the guy who brought everyone coffee. If it were otherwise, then every actor or anyone else who had any part in the creation of the film would then engage in a feeding frenzy over who actually owned the rights to the film. For a creative work, the author, and not “helpers” owns the copyright.

The Aalmuhammed court stated:

The Constitution establishes the social policy that our construction of the statutory term “authors” carries out. The Founding Fathers gave Congress the power to give authors copyrights in order “[t]o promote the progress of Science and useful arts.” Progress would be retarded rather than promoted, if an author could not consult with others and adopt their useful suggestions without sacrificing sole ownership of the work. Too open a definition of author would compel authors to insulate themselves and maintain ignorance of the contributions others might make. Spike Lee could not consult a scholarly Muslim to make a movie about a religious conversion to Islam, and the arts would be the poorer for that.

The broader construction that Aalmuhammed proposes would extend joint authorship to many “overreaching contributors,” like the dramaturg in Thomson, and deny sole authors “exclusive authorship status simply because another person render[ed] some form of assistance.” Claimjumping by research assistants, editors, and former spouses, lovers and friends would endanger authors who talked with people about what they were doing, if creative copyrightable contribution were all that authorship required.

The arts would certainly be more impoverished if every director had to contend with every actor, especially any actor who is disgruntled, claiming copyright in the film and thus, the right to suppress the film’s publication. ‘Cause that is what this is really about: suppressing the publication of the work. It has nothing to do with an “author” claiming her rights under Art. I, Sect. 8, of the Constitution or Title 17.

Remember that? The Constitution? It grants “authors” the right to profit from their works. The Copyright Clause was not put there so that Ms. Garcia could use it as a tool to try and deal with actress regret.

If she’s going to regret anything, it very well may be filing this case. Remember those consequences I mentioned above? Yeah, they can bite her in the ass pretty hard. If Mr. Nakoula has counsel that is even remotely competent, the first thing he will do is file a special motion to strike under California Civ. R. Pro. 425.16, the California Anti-SLAPP Statute. While this statute does not stop discovery in its tracks in federal court, the way it does in state court, it still places the fear of a quick dismissal and attorney’s fees on Garcia’s head. Furthermore, the Copyright Act, under 17 U.S.C. § 505 provides for prevailing party attorney’s fees. There is no way that Garcia can non-fraudulently claim a copyright interest in the motion picture. How her lawyers missed that is beyond me. If I were judging this case, she still might win (on some of her claims) but in the end, the Plaintiff would be the one writing a check.

Ms. Armenta and Ms. Sol have walked their client into a buzzsaw. They clearly either have no idea what they are doing when it comes to copyright law, don’t care what they copyright law is, or have some other ulterior motive for bringing this claim. Whatever their motivation, this is one of the dumbest copyright infringement suits I have ever seen. For the love of god, if this happens to wind up in front of their eyes, I have a message for them: STOP. FIND SOMEONE WHO KNOWS WHAT THE FUCK THEY ARE DOING TO HELP YOU.

While Mr. Nakoula does not seem to be the most savory guy in the world, sometimes the bad guy wins. In this case, I certainly hope that he gets competent counsel, because this complaint deserves to be met with an anti-SLAPP motion and an award of attorneys fees heaped upon Ms. Garcia’s head. Otherwise, other idiots will see it and be emboldened to bring even more idiotic litigation into our already crowded federal courts.


A Pox on Both Your Houses – Suppressing Speech is Not the Same as Expressing Speech

September 26, 2012

The New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority recently came under fire for allowing advertisements on the New York subways that say, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

Goebbels would be proud

The MTA initially refused to run the ad, claiming that it was “demeaning.” However, in July a Federal Judge schooled the MTA on the meaning of the First Amendment. (Order) The MTA, a government authority, does not get to pick and chose which messages it wants to accept.

With the MTA having no choice in the matter, Pamela Geller was free to purchase $6,000 worth of subway ads for a month. Naturally, I have some problems with the ad. First off, I dispute any notion that the Israelis are any more “civilized” than the Muslims. If I had my choice, I would give both groups 30 days to vacate Israel/Palestine and then saturate the land with “dirty bombs” so that nobody could live there for 10,000 years. Maybe after the two groups of assholes have that much time to cool off, they’ll figure out how to share.

The ad is certainly racist, and that’s the point. Geller is no better than Fred Phelps. Nevertheless, the cure for bad speech is more speech. Geller and Phelps will, hopefully, one day inhabit the same dungeon in hell. But, until then, we must pay the cost of living in a free society by tolerating both of their speech.

And that’s where we run into some problems.

Mona Eltahawy, an Arab-American journalist, has reasonable disagreements with an ad which calls her people “savages.” The ad is bigoted. The ad is despicable. Pamela Geller deserves to bo have a cactus shoved up her ass followed by a hive of African bees followed by another cactus. Her message is disgusting and, at the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, it smacks to me of 1940s era Nazi propaganda against the Jews.

And how does this differ from Geller’s ad?
“All propaganda has to be popular and has to adapt its spiritual level to the perception of the least intelligent of those towards whom it intends to direct itself.”-Adolf Hitler

Ms. Eltahawy decided to protest the ad by spray-painting it. And then, a woman by the name of Pamela Hall, who apparently works for Pamela Geller, decided to stand in between the ad and Ms. Eltahawy’s spray paint. At that point, I would like to say that hilarity ensued, but more to the point, stupidity ensued. Eltahawy expresses her stupidity by claiming that spray painting over the ad was her way of expressing her First Amendment rights. Ms. Hall then seemed to think it was perfectly okay to escalate the situation into a physical altercation. Finally, the police came and arrested Ms. Eltahawy for criminal mischief. They did not arrest Ms. Hall for physically assaulting Ms. Eltahawy. Let’s face it, this is happening in New York City and in a fight between an Arab and an Israel supporter, any judgment calls are going to go against the Arab – with or without instant replay.

It seems that the Arab-Israeli conflict can count among its casualties reason and rationality when it comes to expressing free speech theories. This story reminds me of eleven students arrested in February of 2010. In that incident, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, was giving a speech at UC Irvine and some Palestinian students decided to express themselves at the same time. Outrage ensued on both sides of the divide, especially when the Palestinian students were dragged away and criminally charged for their conduct. They, like Ms. Eltahawy, claimed that they were simply exercising their First Amendment rights. I did find them being criminally charged to be awfully heavy handed and I’m quite certain, had the tables been reversed and a Palestinian speaker was being shouted down by Israeli students, nobody would have been prosecuted. Nevertheless, while I may empathize with the Palestinian’s view on their home being colonized, and while I believe that Ms. Eltahawy’s point about Ms. Geller’s ad is well-taken, I do not believe that shouting down your adversary or covering up their message is a defensible act. The First Amendment does not protect your efforts to silence a fellow citizen’s speech.

This happens frequently when one party does not like the other party’s message: stacks of newspapers go missing, speakers get shouted down, and posters get spray-painted. However, if anybody thinks that is the First Amendment in action, they need a remedial class in the subject.

I don’t believe that, strictly speaking, that vandalism of the poster should be completely prohibited. In San Francisco, some people were defacing the posters with bumper stickers that countered the message, while leaving the message intact. This still might be considered vandalism, but as a free speech issue, I find it far less objectionable. Similarly, had the Palestinian students simply stood up during the Israeli FM’s presentation, holding signs or wearing t-shirts critical of the Israeli government, I could find little to object to, even if it was slightly disruptive. I find it inexcusable when one side of a debate thinks that shouting the other down is the answer to the speech that they do not like.

The First Amendment it is not only there for the speaker — it is there for the listener too. I want a robust First Amendment not just because I want the ability to say anything I want to say, but also because I want to hear what everybody else has to say. I want to hear it even if it’s stupid. I want to hear it even if I find it objectionable. My beliefs are strong enough that they can stand firmly in opposition to those that I may find abhorrent. I don’t need to shut the other guy up by playing dirty pool. I don’t want to do that. I do want to shut the other guy up, but I want to shut him up by destroying his arguments. I want to shut him by showing everyone how stupid he is. I want to shut up Ms. Geller. But I want to shut her up by visiting the market place of ideas and utterly rejecting anything that she may have to sell. I want to convince other shoppers in the market place to walk away, saying, “Try selling batshit crazy bigotry some place else; we’re all stocked up here.” I would like to see Ms. Geller’s views wiped from the face of the earth. But they must be wiped from the face of the earth with reason and with wide-open and robust debate, not with a can of spray paint in some fool’s hand.


One of the dumbest articles ever written about Righthaven

July 4, 2012

A lot has been written about Righthaven v. Hoehn (my case), but the following article was so idiotic, so uninformed, such shoddy work, that I feel the need to show my readers this idiocy in its entirety so that they can’t claim that I selectively edited it. Further, I want the content preserved, just in case the author (Steven Shaw) decides to edit it after the fact to remove some of the idiocy.

As you read, you’ll find that there is not a single intelligent sentence in the entire article:

Remember Righthaven, the “copyright troll” that was threatening to sue anyone and everyone who reposted copyrighted content online? The company was ultimately drummed out of existence, in part for its distasteful tactics.

But the ouster of Righthaven left one issue on the table: can reposting an entire article ever be fair use?

I don’t think it can. But a federal judge in Nevada, probably in his understandable eagerness to make Righthaven go away, issued a ruling that leaves the door open for infringing bloggers to argue that posting entire articles can be fair use or at least so harmless as to be non-actionable.

No matter how distasteful we find a company like Righthaven, that distaste should not be allowed to gut the body of intellectual property law upon which our global economy — moving steadily away from production of goods — depends. Republishing an entire article should be an absolute no no. I hope Righthaven gets the opportunity to appeal on that issue.

Outlets like Ars Technica and Wired have nothing but contempt for Righthaven. I’m interested to see how they react when bloggers reprint entire articles from their websites. (source)

Amazing. Simply amazing. The Author lists among his qualifications that he “used to be a litigation attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore.” I presume that in his career, maybe he handled a matter that was at least tangentially related to copyright. Ok, I presumed no such thing, since he obviously doesn’t know anything about fair use. But, I figured I would find that he was sixth chair on a bankruptcy case or something… you know, I’d find a pile of cases that had nothing to do with copyright, and make some snarky remark about how antitrust or bankruptcy have nothing to do with copyright.

Imagine my surprise when I tried to find a single case he worked on as a “litigation attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore” and found this as the result.

Some illustrious copyright litigation career Mr. Shaw has there, huh?

Ok, maybe a better search string would have found his illustrious copyright litigation experience. If anyone has access to Lexis or Westlaw and finds contrary results, let me know and I’ll update.

Since he was admitted to the New York bar in 1995 (source), and then left Cravath in January of 1996 (source), I’d say that saying he “used to be a litigation attorney at Cravath” may be truthful, but its a bit of a dishonest repackaging of the facts. Lets not call him a “liar,” but lets call him “full of shit.”

Of course, we can figure that out from his statement here:

“But the ouster of Righthaven left one issue on the table: can reposting an entire article ever be fair use?

I don’t think it can. (source) “

There is absolutely no reason why reposting an entire article can never be fair use. Of course, I take no quarrel with commenters who might think that Righthaven v. Hoehn was decided incorrectly on the fair use prong. Reasonable people might have non-stupid theories about that. But, to say that reposting an entire article can NEVER be fair use is another way of saying “I am a blowhard idiot who doesn’t know squat about copyright law, but I am desperate to say something relevant about it.”

Before that, he wrote:

Remember Righthaven, the “copyright troll” that was threatening to sue anyone and everyone who reposted copyrighted content online? The company was ultimately drummed out of existence, in part for its distasteful tactics (source)

Maybe Shaw could put down the fork and do some research? Righthaven was not “drummed out of existence” for its “distasteful tactics.” It was “drummed out of existence” because every single judge that looked at it determined that it did not have standing. Shaw might have known that, had he actually done any research.

Later, Shaw writes:

a federal judge in Nevada, probably in his understandable eagerness to make Righthaven go away, issued a ruling that leaves the door open for infringing bloggers to argue that posting entire articles can be fair use or at least so harmless as to be non-actionable. (source)

Really? This guy claims that he “used to be a litigation attorney,” yet he impugns the work of a federal judge without, it seems, ever so much as reading his opinion. Shaw says that since Judge Pro just wanted Righthaven to go away, he ginned up some new rule that posting an entire article can be fair use? And, Shaw thinks that Pro’s decision “leaves the door open?” If Mr. Shaw had ever so much as researched 17 USC Sect. 107, he would find that the door was already wide open. Pro just rode through it.

Still looking for an intelligent word in this crock of shit, lets move on to the next paragraph:

No matter how distasteful we find a company like Righthaven, that distaste should not be allowed to gut the body of intellectual property law upon which our global economy — moving steadily away from production of goods — depends. Republishing an entire article should be an absolute no no. I hope Righthaven gets the opportunity to appeal on that issue.

Righthaven v. Hoehn “gut[s] the body of intellectual property law upon which our global economy — moving steadily away from production of goods — depends” ????

What?

The whole global economy is threatened because a district court agreed with the premise that yes, sometimes, you can even take an entire work and call it “fair use.” Wow. I’ll start stocking up on gold bars, canned goods, and ammunition right away.

Mr. Shaw’s work is clearly shoddy. The article is void of any actual knowledge, and anyone who reads it (absent this kind of criticism) will actually be markedly stupider after they finish reading.

If Mr. Shaw is correct, then I don’t get to cut apart his dumb crap, line by line, because “Republishing an entire article should be an absolute no.”

As far as “I hope Righthaven gets the opportunity to appeal on that issue” goes, I finally agree with him. As just an ego-driven boor, I am DYING for Righthaven v. Hoehn to be decided by the 9th Circuit. Then, I get more fees, I get my name on a 9th Circuit win, and I get to grind my boot into Righthaven’s face some more.

But, as a lawyer, I need to think of my client. For his sake, I hope that the case just ends. It is like a bad zombie movie.

Now, Shaw finally shows his agenda:

Outlets like Ars Technica and Wired have nothing but contempt for Righthaven. I’m interested to see how they react when bloggers reprint entire articles from their websites.(source)

I know how they would react. They would react by asking themselves “is this fair use?” If so, they would move on.


You are Fined Twenty Dollars for Violation of the Verbal Morality Statute.

June 12, 2012

Creating a well-timed and well-phrased barrage of expletives has been around since the beginning of time and those who have mastered the art should be revered as national treasures (George Carlin, rest in peace). Middleborough, Massachusetts does not share this sentiment. Frustrated malcontent Mimi Duphily was fed up with young hooligans dropping the F-bomb near her auto parts store. So she did what any twat rational, intelligent human being would do- Persuade the city council to permit local police to issue fines to individuals cursing in public.

Source 1. Source 2.

The current Middleborough ordinance is based on a previous ordinance criminalizing profanity which is rarely, if ever, enforced. Profanity was bundled with a bunch of other “anti-social” behaviors that are now decriminalized. So instead of being charged with a crime, a person who “verbally accosts” someone in public will receive a $20 fine. At first blush this appears mired in abject stupidity because, well, it is. But the denizens of Middleborough are not alone. In fact, it seems states have always been trying to punish naughty words- both civilly and criminally. Typically, the government will try to stamp out profanity by slapping a fine on some poor schmuck for violating a statute or local ordinance that was enacted before women gained the right to vote and hasn’t been enforced for years if it ever was to begin with.

In 1942, the United States Supreme Court held that “fighting words”— words “which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” — are not protected by the First Amendment. Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 15 U.S. 568 (1942). Then in 1971, the Nine limited Chaplinsky by explaining that wearing a jacket that said “Fuck the Draft” was a “simple public display” as opposed to a direct insult or intent to incite harm. Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971). In the wake of Cohen and related cases (notably, Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576 (1969)-the flag burning case) the 1970’s through 1990s saw a smattering of cases testing Cohen with little or no success.

By and large, ordinances punishing profanity are nearly always struck down as overbroad, vague, and punishing constitutionally protected speech. See e.g., City of Baton Rouge v. Ewing, 308 So.2d 776 (La., 1975)(Motion to quash charge for using ‘indecent, vile, and profane language’ granted based on the ground that the ordinance was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment); and State v. Authelet, 120 R.I. 42, 385 A.2d 642 (R.I., 1978)(Acquittal for person convicted of profanity statute because under fighting words doctrine profanity was not directed at arresting officer). More recently, Michigan tried it in 2002 in People v. Boomer,655 N.W.2d 255 (Mich. App. 2002). A local sheriff ticketed a guy for violating a profanity statute enacted in 1897 that criminalized the use of profane language in front of women and children. The Court of Appeals threw out the conviction and overturned the law, stating that “allowing a prosecution where one utters ‘insulting’ language could possibly subject a vast percentage of the populace to a misdemeanor conviction.” The court went on to note that it would be “difficult to conceive of a statute that would be more vague.”

Abject stupidity aside, the Middleborough city council’s decision is problematic not only because it is extremely vague but also because the ticketing officer is given the discretion to determine the gravity of the profanity. Does the officer’s discretion extend to loud music? “I wasn’t cussing officer; it was Jay-Z, why don’t you send him the ticket?” What about holding a sign that reads, “Fuck you, you fucking fuck” (preferably in front of Mimi Duphily’s store)? The council would have done well to read Cohen ([a statute that] reflects an “undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression), and Street, (“We cannot say that [burning the American Flag on a street corner] was so inherently inflammatory as to come within that small class of ‘fighting words’ which are ‘likely to provoke the average person to retaliation, and thereby cause a breach of the peace”). I am waiting on bated breath to see if this ordinance is actually enforced and I can’t help but wonder what the budget of the city attorney’s office is these days.

But the good news is that now we have a name for the fine-issuing machine in Demolition Man- let’s call it the Duphily.


From the “I’m So Clever” File

April 26, 2012

Federal Judge Slaps Back Dino M. Zaffina in Darts Trademark Battle – Los Angeles News – The Informer

Darts

Odd story.  Basically, some dart fan joins the Southern California Darts Association.  They snub him by not using his middle initial, unlike, say, the SAG forcing Michael Fox and Jim Bullock to add middle initials.  So, he finds out that there is no corporation with that name (as the former corporate entity lapsed).  He registers a corporation with that name and tries to stop the association from using that name.  After some surprising initial success, he met with a big ole Fail.

Not sure why he met with initial success (and no, I’m not making a pun regarding the snub), since this is a pretty straight forward issue.  These folks were using the name.  You can’t bounce them out simply by incorporating with that name.  That would be like discovering that “The Beatles” never formed a corporate entity, so you register “The Beatles, Inc.” and try to keep Sir Paul and Ringo from making appearances together as a “Beatles Reunion”.  Prior use, for the win.


Section 230 Amendment strips websites of immunity from anonymous commenters

April 1, 2012

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is not particularly known for his friendliness toward the First Amendment, is at it again.  As chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, Lieberman urged Twitter to stop hosting pro-Taliban tweets last fall, in addition to persuading Internet companies to remove blog posts that promote terrorism.

It appears he’s now taking the idea one step further by proposing an amendment to section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. (Source.) Section 230 (47 U.S.C. § 230) grants immunity to Internet Service Providers from being held liable for the comments of third parties to their websites. Basically, it’s what shields review sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp from butthurt business owners holding them liable for disgruntled third parties’ reviews.  It is also what allows all of you to say whatever you want in the comments without The Legal Satyricon being taken to task for it (legally).

However, Lieberman’s proposed amendment would change that. The new language reads:

No A provider or user of an interactive computer service shall may be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Although Lieberman is touting this amendment as an anti-terrorist effort, this action will have a chilling effect on all forms of Internet speech. Service providers from Comcast to Consumerist may now be treated as publishers to content posted to their websites. This opens up the possibility that review sites and others that rely on third parties for content will be held responsible for those very same deranged, sub-literate contributions. Lieberman’s proposed amendment will have a chilling effect on free speech, as any site that does not want to drown in legal bills likely won’t accept anonymous comments.  If you’re a sissy with paper-thin skin or an obsession with “bullying,” rejoice, I suppose.

Long before the rise of the Internet, anonymous speech has provided an outlet for those who wanted to make their voices heard, but were unable to so for fear of retaliation. The issue of anonymous speech was discussed in great detail in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Committee, which involved a woman who handed out unsigned political leaflets that opposed a tax levy. The Supreme Court held that such speech was protected:

“Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”

Needless to say, inhibiting anonymous speech is an attack on this right in gross.  It will be a grave day if this amendment succeeds.  Although anonymous speech on the Internet is not always the most intelligent, it still has its place in public discourse – for me to poop on.  Civil liberties should not be victims in the attempt to curb terrorism, yet we have already succumbed to the Scylla and Charybdis of the TSA and NSA in entrusting our rights to the benevolent government.  At this point, what’s one more right ceded to the security theater’s alphabet soup?

 


Verrr Nice! NOT!

March 23, 2012

Kazakh Maria Dmitrienko won the gold medal in a shooting competition in Kuwait. While she stood on the podium, they played the Kazakh National Anthem — except it wasn’t the real one… it was Borat’s version. Apparently, the organizers accidentally downloaded it from the internet.

That’s what you get for using BitTorrent to get your music, dumbasses.


Support for Terrence Connor

March 7, 2012

A partner at Hunton & Williams, Terrence Connor, was arrested for pepper spraying his neighbor’s dogs. The dogs belong to University of Miami Student Andrea Lopez, who lives next door to Connor. (source)

Connor says that the dogs bark constantly and the police do nothing about the disturbance. He’s tried calling the police, tried spraying water on them, and now finally broke down and pepper sprayed them. The police responded by arresting him on misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty. (police report)

Naturally, most of the press and blogosphere is piling on Connor’s ass about this. I have his back though. (It was a bit assholish of him to play the “do you know who I am?” card though).

Have you ever lived next door to a yippy dog? How about two of the fucking things? Sure, I understand that it is not the dog’s fault that the owner is an irresponsible piece of shit who thinks there is nothing wrong with letting her dogs bark to the point that it annoys her neighbors. A certain percentage of dog owners are like that. If you dare to criticize them for failing to train their dogs, they take it like you just said that their children should be dragged out into the street and shot.

Hell, even PETA thinks you shouldn’t leave your animals in the yard unattended:

“We’ll watch for the outcome of this case but we’d like remind dog owners not to leave their pets unattended outdoors, even in a fenced yard. Keep animals indoors unless they are supervised at all times. Dogs are like small children.”(source)

If you screamed at the top of your lungs in your yard 50 times a day, the cops would eventually arrest you. If you were cranking music at the same sound and frequency of a dog’s bark, you’d get a ticket. But, in most police departments, barking dogs are not exactly a priority to them — despite the fact that having a yapping dog next door to you is hardly a “victimless crime.” See Barkingdogs.net.. Hell, even dogs don’t like the sound of other dogs barking all the time. (source)

There are methods for owners to deal with barking dogs. Training them might be nice. There are collars that administer a small shock (sorta like when you touch metal after scuffing the carpet), collars that spray out citronella (which dogs hate), or you can have the vocal cords cut. Yeah, you might not like some of those options, but I’m sure that this guy does’t like the fact that he has to live next to some self-absorbed fucking asshole who believes that she not only owns her own house, but the airspace of all the houses around her.

A Florida Court dealt with this very issue. Knecht v. Katz, 785 So. 2d 754 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001)

Appellees sought injunctive relieve in regard to appellants’ Great Pyrenees’ constant barking while it was permitted to remain outside appellants’ home. Appellees’ request was to enjoin appellants from maintaining the dog on their property “in such manner as to create noise sufficient to impair Plaintiffs’ peaceful and quiet enjoyment of their property.” Instead, the trial court gave appellants 30 days to remove the dog from their premises. We agree with appellants that the court went too far. In addition, it granted a remedy not sought by appellees. Appellees never complained that the dog disturbed them when it was within appellants’ home. Some barking must be expected from dogs. Before appellants can be judicially required to remove their dog from their premises, they should be given the opportunity to cure the problem which disturbed appellees. The dog should not be permitted to remain outdoors unattended so that continuous barking might disturb the neighbors. However, if keeping the dog indoors or bringing the dog indoors when it starts barking will cure the problem, the injunction should go no further.

So it isn’t as if there is no legal remedy. Of course, getting that remedy could take months or even years. In the meantime, Connor has to live next to this annoying yapping.

The fact is, all of this could have likely been avoided had the police ever simply issued a $100 citation to the dog owner. It is amazing how “I can’t do anything about it” turns into motivation to actually do something about it when money is at stake. Mr. Connor had a right to the quiet enjoyment of his home. Ms. Lopez is the instigator here. Maybe Connor shouldn’t have pepper sprayed the dogs. Maybe he should have used his law degree and filed for an injunction. But, perhaps a little non-toxic, non-permanent pepper spray on the precious little dogs would get the point across. Personally, I think that he should have fed them laxatives so they shit all over her house.

I hope that Mr. Connor not only beats the charges against him, but that he files suit and gets an injunction so that he can live peacefully.


The “Nude Body Scanners” protect us!

March 6, 2012

I just got an email from a reader.

Name: REDACTED
Email: REDACTED@REDACTED.com

Message: Mr. Randazza,

I know your loathing of the TSA is something of legend among the blawg world, so I thought you might enjoy this little expose on the complete worthlessness of the airport scanning technology.

http://tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/1b-of-nude-body-scanners-made-worthless-by-blog-how-anyone-can-get-anything-past-the-tsas-nude-body-scanners/

Yup, pretty much.

Enjoy it? In a sick “I want to choke everybody in a blue shirt” way.


(Former) Judge Willie Singletary – Preacher Mode? Judge Mode? Its all Crazy Mode

March 5, 2012

Willie Singletary

When Willie Singletary ran for traffic court judge in 2007, he was described as “a scofflaw of major proportions” by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

As of primary day, Singletary, 26, owed $11,427.50 for 55 violations, including reckless driving, driving without a license, careless driving, driving without registration, and driving without insurance.

In fact, a bench warrant had been issued for his arrest – a fact made public after the election by Bernard Strain, who lost in the Democratic primary for Traffic Court but who won a Republican nomination. (source)

His dad paid the fines, and claimed that “roughly half” of the violations were racked up by Willie’s brother. (source) His license was suspended for four years, yet he still won his race.

Singletary was (maybe still is) a preacher, go figure. During the election, he was captured on Youtube suggesting that campaign contributions would result in benefits to those who appeared before him while he served on the bench. At a “Blessing of the Bikes” event, he said,

“There’s going to be a basket going around because I’m running for traffic court judge, right, and I need some money. Now, you all want me to get there. You’re all going to need my hookup, right?”

He got suspended when that came out. His excuse? “I was in preacher mode,” he said. “I do admit I chose a poor choice of words.” (source)

I guess promising corruption is “preacher mode.”

But wait, there’s more.

He was again relieved of his duties because he showed pictures of his penis to a co-worker. (source)

After allegedly showing a young, female Traffic Court cashier in December two cellphone pictures of his erect penis, Singletary cooed, “Do you like that?” according to documents released [On March 1] by the state Judicial Conduct Board. (source)

Oh, it gets better. After the co-worker filed a sexual harassment complaint, Singletary reportedly confronted her to try and get her to withdraw it. Hello retaliation suit.

When he got fired, he was escorted from the building by sheriff’s deputies.

I wonder whether the cock shot was done while Singletary was in “judge mode” or “preacher mode.”


Sheriff Mike Scott vs. The Media (again)

March 4, 2012

Lee County, Floriduh: Sheriff Mike Scott, (who I wrote about here) didn’t like being questioned about a federal lawsuit filed against his department. To show everyone that he’s boss, he decided that the Fort Myers News Press will no longer have the right to ask questions at press conferences, and he’s decided to severely limit press access to his department. (source)

Apparently, this is not the first time that Mike Scott has thrown a temper tantrum at the media.


Awww…. does somebody need a hug?

January 14, 2012

Rick Santorum… wow

January 9, 2012

Seriously, hasn’t anyone told Rick Santorum that he’s gay? Only a self-hating closet case could be this much of a fucktard. That’s where he tells a high school class that they are better off having parents in prison than having gay parents. No word on how the three kids with gay parents in the audience reacted.

Of course, this is the same toolbag who thinks that contraception should be made illegal.

Here is an actual Rick Santorum quote: “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.” And also, “Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

These comments were not dug up from some bygone moment of ideological purity, before dreams of a presidential campaign. He said them in October, to a blogger at CaffeinatedThoughts.com (they met at Des Moines’ Baby Boomers Cafe). (source)

Now in all fairness, my views are probably just as extreme.

I, for example, believe in forced sterilization.

But, I’m not running for president.

That said, if I was, I would advocate grabbing every single person who ever cast a vote for Rick Santorum, for any reason, at any level, and immediately removing their reproductive capacity from them on the spot.

Because if you vote for, or have ever voted for, this moron, you really are too fucking stupid to pass on your genes, and natural selection just ain’t doing its part these days.


Fuck the King of Thailand

December 8, 2011

For the King of Thailand


An American citizen translated a book about the Thai king and posted it on his website. He lands in Thailand and is arrested for lese majeste — insulting the King. (source)


Vaginal Obsession – TSA, you’re doing it wrong

October 31, 2011

If you had to create a chart of the things I like and the things I don’t like, vaginas and the TSA would clearly be at opposite ends. The vagina is truly a wonderful thing, when properly cared for. Your mileage may vary depending on diet, grooming, genetics, and a host of other factors. But, in general, vaginas are a wonderful thing.

The TSA is not a vagina. It is not even vagina like. Even though it is run by a bunch of twats, it can’t even get close to being in the vagina zone when it comes to coolness.

I’ve never hidden my hatred for the TSA.  When I go through security, I always opt for the pat-down, and I make sure to make it difficult for the agent. Why? Because when I was in basic training, they taught us that it is our duty to make captivity as difficult for our captors as possible. I harass TSA employees when I see them in public, reminding them in grocery stores, theaters and anywhere else I find them that they are low forms of shit, and I advocate that we all do the same).  They are only doing their jobs? Well so was John Demjanjuk.

As much as I hate the TSA, I must admit that we have something in common: We both got a thing for vaginas. Of course, I prefer mine to be over the age of consent — the TSA harbors no such prejudices. Nope, not at all.

But, if I may be so pompous as to declare myself qualified to offer instruction on how to care for and attract vagina — TSA, you’re doing it wrong.

The TSA’s latest victim is prominent feminist blogger Jill Filipovic, of Feministe fame.  Ms. Filipovic recently took a trip to Dublin and, upon arriving, found a note from a TSA agent who’d discovered a vibrator in her luggage:

“GET YOUR FREAK ON GIRL” (source)

She reacted in a way that was noticeably un-second-wavy of her — with a sense of humor. She wrote:

Total violation of privacy, wildly inappropriate and clearly not ok, but I also just died laughing in my hotel room. (source)

The TSA’s reaction to this incident was predictable, given how it responds to terror threats: Namely, it enacted a remedy that will never be useful in the future. The screener got shitcanned.

But, is that really what anyone wanted? Filipovic has as much right as anyone to demand that this TSAsshole lose his or her job. Nevetheless, she did not call for the agent’s head. (She admirably dislikes Coldplay more than she dislikes this Agent).

It’s easy to scape-goat one individual here, but the problem with the note is that it’s representative of the bigger privacy intrusions that the U.S. government, through the TSA and other sources, levels every day. The invasion is inherent to the TSA’s mission, regardless of whether a funny note is left behind — the note only serves to highlight the absurdity of all this security theater. (source)

Filipovic went on to write that she is pleased that the TSA took the issue seriously, but firing one person who made a dumb mistake really misses the whole point.

I get no satisfaction in hearing that someone may be in danger of losing their job over this. I would much prefer a look at why ‘security’ has been used to justify so many intrusions on our civil liberties, rather than fire a person who made a mistake. (source)

Instead, the TSA seems to treat this as an isolated incident — or a failure by one of its drones. Meanwhile, the actual issue, which Filipovic tried to make us think about, is lost in the guffaws over the gooey gewgaw.

After we get done chuckling about Filipovic being anonymously told to “get her freak on,” I hope that we can think about how the TSA’s Freudian field day with our reproductive organs demonstrates the absurd nature of its very existence, the failure of its mission, the lie that it represents. It hasn’t got a damn thing to do with keeping us safe. I wish that we could think about how you should never try and have an agency devoted to such a high-falutin goal like airline safety, when you staff it with low-grade morons who are not fit to reproduce, let alone do anything else. Anyone who even wants that job must be a twisted, broken, loser; the kind of person who has lamented their loss of power ever since they left third grade and had to return the “hall monitor” sash to the principal’s office. Next time you are at the airport, just try detecting any intellect in the TSA agents you encounter. You will fail in that task. That alone should tell you that the agency has no reason to exist. If the job were actually important, we would never hire people who are this desperate, stupid, or lazy, to try and do it. And, when you give a powerless idiot a little bit of control, that misused power will find its own center, and that center is apparently our ‘nads.

Filipovic’s experience is no mere outlier. Take the recent tale of Amy Alkon — my client. The TSA only pried into what Ms. Filipovic inserts in her vagina; in Amy Alkon’s case, the TSA actually went up in there.  Repeatedly.  Four times over.  Naturally, Ms. Alkon did not like this and used her free speech rights to express her outrage over the event, shining the light of truth upon the TSA’s misdeeds, and calling the agent’s actions “rape.” Filipovic herself reports that even the FBI would agree with this assessment.  Unlike Filipovic, Alkon did not (so far) find out that her tormentor was fired. Ms. Alkon received a demand letter for $500,000 from Thedala Magee, the TSA agent with whom she had her little run-in. (Well, from her lawyer, but you get the point). 

It might have been undignified for the screener to scrawl a note about Filipovic’s sex toy – but unfortunately, that seems to be where the bureaucracy got hung up, and the real discussion about civil liberties got swept under the carpet — again.