Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sports Mechanics: 'RoboScribe' Grapples With Play-by-Play Lingo

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 19:  Wayne Ellington th...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeStatSheet, a three-year-old North Carolina company whose Web site provides statistical analysis for several sports has ginned up its statistics software to generate articles about college basketball games, The New York Times reports.

Fans used to visiting www.StatSheet.com to get the numbers breakdown on Nascar, college football, college basketball and the like now can click onto the StatSheet Network, which offers separate Web sites for each of the 345 NCAA Division 1 men's basketball teams. Once there, thanks to "automated content," the fans can read entirely software-generated write-ups of the team's games. Every team's StatSheet Web site has its own Web address (http://statsheet.com/#websites).

The article-producing software consists of template sentences and a database of roughly 5,000 phrases and numbers. The software has problems creating complex sentences, just like most sportswriters, but drinks less.

As if journalists didn't face enough challenges in this job market.

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Portable Playboy: Pleasure in Your Pocket?

Playboy magazine December 1972 cover featuring...Image via WikipediaThe Los Angeles Times reports that for about $300, you can own every issue from 1953 to 2010 of Playboy magazine on a 250GB drive that the magazine claims will fit "inside a briefcase or jacket pocket." Thankfully, not a pants pocket.

The men's magazine partnered with Bondi Digital Publishing to release 650 issues on a USB hard drive. Rolling Stone, National Geographic and the New Yorker are among periodicals that have created digital archives with Bondi.

Playboy on a hard drive. The vigilant staff of "TUOL" has never encountered a straight line it didn't like.

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UPDATE: Last Call for Va. College Papers on Alcohol Ad Ban

The Supreme Court of the United States. Washin...Image via WikipediaIn Educational Media Co. v. Swecker (Docket No. 10-278), the U. S. Supreme Court Monday declined to hear an appeal by the Va. chapter of the ACLU on behalf of two college newspapers in the Commonwealth regarding alcohol advertisement restrictions, according to an Associated Press report.

The High Court decision lets stand the 2-1 vote of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Case No. 08-1798) that upheld the validity of Va. Alcohol Beverage Control Regulations [3 Va. Admin. Code secs. 5-20-40(A) & (B)(3)] that prohibit use of the term happy hour, forbid references to specific alcoholic beverages and ban beer, wine and mixed drink advertisements in student-run publications, except in the context of restaurant ads. [See "TUOL" post 8/24/10.]

Both The Cavalier Daily and The Collegiate Times challenged the ban on the non-deceptive ads on First Amendment grounds, arguing that they lost roughly $30,000 in ad revenue because of the proscription. Instead of  "bottoms up," their appeal has bottomed out.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Palin Publisher Prevails--Putsdown Pugnacious Poster

Gov. Sarah Palin has breakfast and visits with...Image via WikipediaIn HarperCollins, LLC v. Gawker Media LLC (Case No. 10 Civ.-8782), the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York this week sided with the publisher of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's second tome, America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag, against the Gawker blog that published unauthorized excerpts.

The court ordered Gawker to take down the posted excerpts pending a Nov. 30 hearing, but the parties have since settled the dispute, with Gawker promising to keep the Palindrones off its site. The book was released--to bookstores, not the Alaska wild--on Nov. 23.

Gawker had alleged its posting of the Palin segments was protected fair use, a dubious position given the U.S. Supreme Court 1986 decision in Harper & Row Pub. v. The Nation Enterprises (471 U.S. 539), which involved the defendant's pre-publication lifting of roughly  300 words of verbatim quotes from former President Gerald Ford's memoirs. The High Court rejected the fair use defense in the case involving Ford, who like Palin, never served a full-term in office, though through no fault of his own.

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Calif. High Court Gives SF Weekly Owner the Golden Gate

San Francisco Bay GuardianImage via WikipediaThe California Supreme Court this week refused to hear the appeal of Village Voice Media Holdings-owned SF Weekly's adverse ruling in the antitrust suit brought by rival weekly Bay Guardian, according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle (www.sfgate.com).

With only one of the seven-member high court willing to hear the appeal in Bay Guardian v. New Times Media (Case No. S186497), the $21 million judgment against the defendant for attempting to shut down the Bay Guardian by selling its own ad space below cost.  The California Supreme Court rejected the defendant's argument that its low advertising rate constituted legitimate business competition that was a boon to local businesses.

Both the Bay Guardian and SF Weekly are free publications heavily reliant on advertising revenue for their existence. In 2008, a jury found for the homegrown Bay Guardian, awarding $6.2 million in damages against the defendant for illegal predatory pricing (114 Cal. Rptr. 3d 392 (2008)). The verdict was upped to $16 million by the trial judge pursuant to antitrust law penalties, and interest accrued brought the total award to $21 million.  An appeals court subsequently allowed the Bay Guardian to collect half of SF Weekly's ad revenue in partial satisfaction of the judgment.

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Social Network Seeks 'Face' Time at Trademark Office

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBaseThe U.S. Patent & Trademark Office has issued a notice of allowance on Palo Alto, Calif.-based social media giant Facebook's December 2005, application to the USPO to trademark the word face.

Facebook must cough up a $100 fee to USPO and may either request up to a 36-month extension or prove within the next six months that it uses the face trademark, according to a report by the Canadian Broadcast Corp. News. In filing a statement of use, Facebook would have to show that beyond the use of the word in its domain name, that it actually employs face on products in commerce, according to the TechCrunch Web site. No opposition was filed to the Facebook proposed trademark.

Were face to be trademarked,  Facebook would  be unable to restrict the use of the term in ordinary commerce unrelated to Facebook's business of providing telecommunications services, such as chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards, according to a Daily Mail story.  It remains to be seen whether face, a generic term, will be trademarked.

Facebook is not one to play favorites among its syllables, and has recently gone on the warpath against entities that use book in their name. Online teacher community Teachbook.com, for example, was targeted by Facebook recently in a trademark infringement lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (Facebook, Inc. v. Teachbook.com, LLC, Case No. CV10-03654).

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oops... She Lost It Again!

Cover of "Through the Storm: A Real Story...Cover via AmazonLynne Irene Spears, pop chanteuse Britney Spears' mama, may believe her daughter's former manager, Sam Lufti, is Overprotected, Lucky, Crazy and Toxic, but it's too soon to Turn Off the Lights on his defamation suit.

Spears was unable to convince a California appellate court to adopt the "libel-proof" defense, according to a story in the weekly Beverly Hills Courier, so Lufti's defamation suit against her based on her 2008 book, Through the Storm: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World will proceed.

Lufti filed suit on Feb. 3, 2009, in Los Angeles County Superior Court. His 15-page complaint, Sam Lufti v. Lynne Irene Spears, James Parnell Spears, Britney Spears, et al (Case No. BC406904) included counts alleging defamation, libel, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract and quantum meruit. In August of last year, Superior Court Judge Zaven V. Sinanian denied Lynne Spears' motion to dismiss the defamation claim on the grounds that her statements constituted protected speech, ruling that the passages targeted in her book by Lufti, if proven false, sufficiently supported a defamation claim.

Spears appealed the ruling to the California Second District Court of Appeal (Case No. B218211), saying remarks about the plaintiff in her book, including calling him "shifty," a "predator," and a "fake" who was "planning evil" by isolating Britney from her family through actions such as throwing away the pop diva's phone chargers and disabling her house phones, were not defamatory because Lufti is "libel-proof."

The idea behind the defense, which has not been accepted in any California case law, is that an individual's reputation already is so sullied that the individual can't be defamed by attacks on his/her character.  It has been applied in other jurisdictions, including "TUOL"'s own Massachusetts, in the case of Jackson v. Longscope, 394 Mass. 577 (1985), in which the court found the plaintiff, a convicted rapist/murderer who sued for libel over accusations that he had carnal relations with victims after he killed them, had such a bad reputation that he couldn't be libeled.  Conventional wisdom considers rock star managers generally at least slightly higher on the food chain than necrophiliac killers. The three-judge appellate panel wasn't buying it, so Lufti's defamation claim remains on-track for trial.

"TUOL" appreciates readers' concerns regarding his over-familiarity with Britney Spears' discography.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chicago Financial News Service Feeling Not So 'Hot' Over Copyright Infringement

Image representing News Corporation as depicte...Image via CrunchBaseDow Jones & Co. has received undisclosed, but "substantial" damages from Briefing.com, a Chicago-based financial news Web site that admittedly infringed on Dow Jones' copyrighted material and violated the "hot news" doctrine, according to a Dow Jones news release.

Dow Jones, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. empire, sued Briefing.com in April 2010, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Case No. 10-03321). The defendant conceded that it infringed on roughly 100 copyrighted articles and 70 headlines of the plaintiff during a two-week stretch.

 As part of the resolution of the case, Briefing.com accepted a permanent injunction against any further infringing on Dow Jones' articles and agreed to provide the plaintiff free access to its Web site so that it may monitored to prevent further violations.  Briefing.com further admitted to violating the "hot news" doctrine, which prohibits continuously republishing a news organization's time-sensitive news articles.  The proposed settlement is awaiting approval from the Court.

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Court Mouthpiece Catches Flak

TMZ on TVImage via WikipediaAn eight-year veteran spokesperson for Los Angeles County Superior Court has been terminated for what he claim are untrue accusations that he leaked information to celebrity gadfly, www.TMZ.com

According to a story in The Los Angeles Times, Allan Parachini claims his purported link to TMZ is a smokescreen for the actual reason for his dismissal--ongoing tension involving himself and judges and court administrators who were reluctant to produce documents requested by media organizations that Parachini contends the journalists were entitled to receive.

Parachini, a former LA Times scribe who also worked for the ACLU, exacerbated the rumors that he was a source for TMZ by hiring former TMZ reporter Vania Stuelp to be his deputy. She has since returned to TMZ after budget constraints eliminated her post as Parachini's second-in-command. Parachini alleges he didn't endear himself to superiors because of his outspoken support for cameras in the courtroom.

Parchini's whistleblowing is self-serving as it came about after unsuccessful efforts to hammer out a severance agreement with his former employer. Nevertheless, "TUOL" has encountered court personnel and judges whose goal of achieving "pure justice" in a vacuum skews their attitude toward the news media and makes them partial to the U.S. Constitution's  Sixth Amendment over the First Amendment.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Whither COICA?

Ron WydenImage via WikipediaAlthough the Senate Judiciary Committee last week by a 19-0 vote resoundingly gave its blessings to the Combatting Online Infringement & Counterfeit Act ("COICA"), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said: "Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like a bunker buster cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision guided missile."

As reported by Jurist (http://jurist.law.pitt.edu),  the bill, which would amend Chapter 13 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code by adding Sec. 2324 Internet Sites Dedicated to Infringing Activities, would enable the Attorney General to seek injunctions against both domestic and international copyright-infringing Web sites. Wyden fears the measure could lead to Internet censorship, a position supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The EFF says COICA would affect non-infringing online content, including political speech by interfering with the Internet's Domain Name System that translates site names into IP addresses used by computers to communicate.  The EFF claims COICA would create a "blacklist" of  censored domains.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Dems Defeat Defund NPR Bill Advanced by GOP

NPR - Just like any typical Liberal GroupImage by wstera2 via FlickrAging '60s rockers and folkies eager to perform at fundraiser retrospectives and those in the market for a new tote bag are breathing easier today as House Democrats beat back a measure to eliminate government funding of NPR by a vote of 239-171, according to the Web site The Wrap (www.thewrap.com).

Fueled by NPR's recent dismissal of conservative commentator Juan Williams, GOP Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R.-Va.) introduced the bill to halt federal funding of NPR, which drew unanimous GOP support and three Democrats.  NPR, a nonprofit news organization, reacted to the vote, praising the House's "good judgment" for quashing the effort "to assert government control over the content of news."

But, All Things Considered, NPR may not be out of the woods yet.  The bipartisan National Commission for Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, charged with recommending ways to slash the federal budget, has suggested shutting off the federal spigot to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting--NPR and PBS, that is.

With Bristol Palin still hoofing her away into the hearts of Americans, the NPR vote has not been the Talk of the Nation.

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Freedom: Just Another Word for Media Outlets to Sell

Freedom Communications LogoImage via WikipediaEight television stations and 100 newspapers, including flagship Orange County Register, owned by Irvine, Calif.-based Freedom Communications, Inc., are attracting suitors, according to an Associated Press story.

Freedom Communications, which emerged  in April from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filed in September 2009, would not identify any potential buyers.

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Google to U.K.: Sorry Old Chaps About Street View

Google Maps Street View CameraImage by freefotouk via FlickrPersonal data culled from citizens of Great Britain by Google's Street View force will be destroyed, according to the Associated Press.

The U.K.'s Information Commissioner exacted a pledge from Google that its employees would receive better data protection training and that each of its new projects would generate a  privacy document.  The Mountainview, Calif.-based Internet search giant claims it inadvertently accumulated passwords and other personal information via unsecured wireless networks during its efforts to produce three-dimensional city maps worldwide.

Numerous nations, including Canada, Australia and the Czech Republic have clashed with Google over the Street View privacy breach. (See "TUOL" posts on 10/20/10, 9/22/10, 7/9/10.)

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Facebook & Lamebook Poking Each Other in Tex. & Calif. Federal Courts

Facebook logoImage via WikipediaFacebook has filed a 10-count trademark infringement suit against Lamebook in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California  (Facebook, Inc. v. Lamebook, LLC, Case No. CV-10-5048), less than a week after Lamebook filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment against the social network behemoth in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas (Lamebook, LLC v. Facebook, Inc., Case No. 1:10-cv-00833).

In its 19-page complaint, Facebook alleges, among other claims,  federal trademark dilution [15 U.S.C. sec. 1125], trademark infringement [15 U.S.C. sec. 1114], false designation of origin, unfair competition, and violation of the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act [15 U.S.C. sec. 1125(D)]. As reported by www.law.com, Facebook challenges Lamebook's claim that its Web site warrants 1st Amendment protection as parody and satire, countering that Lamebook is a for-profit venture whose appearance is nearly identical to Facebook's and being used to lure advertisers.

In its 7-page complaint, Lamebook is asking a federal judge in Austin to find that it is a parody of  Facebook's "best & worst posts" and does not dilute or infringe on Facebook's trademark, pursuant to the Lanham Act [15 U.S.C. sec. 1051 et seq.]. Before their respective race to the courthouse, the two sides were engaged in discussions to resolve the dispute.

Although parody is a protected  form of expression under the First Amendment, it's a tricky obstacle course to navigate because the purveyor of the parody must in its work make readers or viewers think about the original work while at the same time conveying to the readers/viewers that it is a humorous vehicle in no way connected to the original work.

The Lamebook Web site invites visitors to contribute to its legal fund. "TUOL" wonders how many active federal lawsuits it takes before parties "de-friend" each other.

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Minors Pursuing Lawsuit Must Be Named, Court Says

US Court of Appeals, Pasadena, California.Image via Wikipedia
In Jacob Doe, a minor, by parents & next friends, et al. v. Kamehameha Schools/Bernice District of Hawaii et al. (Case No. 09-15448), the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused a rehearing request by plaintiffs, who are minors, who sought to pursue their civil rights discrimination suit against a school system anonymously.

In March, the appeals court upheld a federal district court judge's ruling that the juvenile plaintiffs must be identified by name in court documents and open court as their lawsuit against Hawaii schools' race-based admissions policy proceeds. The complaint alleges the defendants favor applicants of Hawaiian ancestry. Counsel for the minors argued for preserving the students' privacy rights and protecting them against harassment by classmates and others, but the Ninth Circuit denied the rehearing request, with two justices dissenting, holding that the students' concerns were overridden by the need for open courts bolstered by the 1st & 6th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The matter may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a blog post by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (www.rcfp.org).

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Washington Independent Turns Off the Lights

Washington dcImage via Wikipedia
The headline on today's online edition says it all: "The Washington Independent signing off."

Owned by the American Independent News Network (formerly The Center for Independent Media), the nonprofit Washington Independent, which favored the dying art of investigative reporting, is ending a three-year run. Spencer Ackerman and David Weigel were among the Washington Independent's best-known alumni.
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See Jane(sville) Run: Daily Curbs Comments on Online Edition

Janesville Police DepartmentImage by cliff1066™ via Flickr
Wisconsin daily The Janesville Gazette, which is owned by Bliss Communications, Inc., is anything but extremely happy about the tenor of  readers' comments following news stories in the Gazette's online edition.

The Gazette began soliciting comments from online readers three years ago, and by its own estimate, presently attracts four million pageviews monthly and receives roughly 10,000 comments a month. But, as the newspaper management laments, "The nastiness...is too much."

Consequently, The Janesville Gazette has decided to ban online comments from readers concerning stories involving courts, crimes, accidents, race, or sex.  The editor pledged to continue to monitor readers' comments and invited readers to submit old-fashioned letters-to-the-editor to the print version or to call the publication's "SoundOff" line.

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Dem Consultants Go Off on a 'Huff' in Lawsuit Against News Aggregator

Arianna Huffington talks to the media during h...Image via Wikipedia
The guardian.co.uk Web site reports today on a 26-page complaint filed in the Supreme Court of New York (Peter Daou & James Boyce  v. Arianna Huffington, Kenneth Lerer & TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc.) in which two Democratic politicos allege breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, idea misappropriation, unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of implied contract against the co-founders of  The Huffington Post news aggregator.

According to their lawsuit, Daou & Boyce are being deprived of an ownership interest in HuffPost by the defendants, whom they accuse of stealing their idea for the influential Web site that launched in 2005. According to the Guardian account, Daou has pledged to donate any proceeds from the lawsuit to progressive political causes.

Huffington & Lerer released a statement to the Politico Web site denying the plaintiffs' accusations, and asserting that Daou & Boyce had no role in the creation, financing or operation of TheHuffingtonPost Web site. The defendants allege they rejected hiring or entering into a partnership with the plaintiffs six years ago.

The lawsuit is in its nascent stage as the defendants have yet to file an answer to the complaint. The defendants should have no problem mounting a defense with the money that they don't pay Web site contributors, but Arianna probably wishes she had the "bus money" she doled out to transport New Yorkers to the Stewart/Colbert Rally for Sanity in Washington, D.C. last month.

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X-Posed: National Enquirer & Star Tabloids in Bankruptcy Love Nest

DON'T MARRY TOM!Image by hfabulous via Flickr
As anticipated here [see "TUOL" post 11/2/10], Boca Raton, Fla.-based American Media, Inc., whose publications include the Star and National Enquirer supermarket tabloids, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (In re American Media, Inc., 10-BK-16140), according to Bloomberg News.

The publisher of the popular gossip tabloids listed assets of  under $50,000 against debts of up to $1 billion in its court filing.  The Enquirer's circulation as of September 2010, averaged 695,000, a drop of 83,000 compared to October 2009 figures, while the Star's  numbers during the same period saw a decrease to 940,000 from 1.1 million, according to Bloomberg.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Short, But Tweet

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
AllTwitter(www.alltwitter.com), a new blog reporting on news, and providing pointers and opinions supporting social media platform Twitter, debuted last week on Mediabistro's blog network.

The self-professed "Unofficial Twitter Resource" week-old blog, which thankfully is not limited to Tweet-length entries, today offers a link revealing the full-breadth of Verified Twitter accounts. If irony still exists, the new blog will attract a maximum 140 followers.
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USA Today: News is Hard, So Less Hard News

USA TodayImage via Wikipedia
A newsroom flow chart for Gannett Co.'s leaky flagship USA Today reproduced in Gannett Blog yesterday is an eye-opener.  Among the lowlights concerning the allocation of editorial resources is that USA Today has five reporters assigned to cover Congress, as compared to 27 journalists covering entertainment.

Over the past four years , circulation at USA Today, the nation's second largest daily after The Wall St. Journal, has dropped to 1.8 million from 2.3 million, while ad pages have decreased by half the same period [see "TUOL" post 8/27/10]. 

Gannett no doubt considers the redistribution of reporters as a revenue and readership booster, but count "TUOL" as among the rank and file who view it as capitulation. It's also misguided as Congress is at least as shallow as the entertainment world.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Newsweek & The Daily Beast Merge

...and the next question?Image by Esthr via Flickr
Beleaguered news magazine Newsweek, which 92-year-old audio magnate Sidney Harmon acquired for $1 in September [see "TUOL" post 8/2/10], has merged with The Daily Beast Web site to create The Newsweek Daily Beast Co. that will be co-owned by Harmon and Beast financier Barry Diller, chair of  IAC/Interactive Corp. Tina Brown will serve as editor-in-chief of both entities.

As initially reported by The New York Observer and confirmed in today's The New York Times, under the 50/50 merger, the editorial staffs of  The Beast and Newsweek will combine under the control of Brown, who, nine days shy of her 57th birthday,  re-enters the print magazine industry after a decade-long hiatus. The flamboyant Brown previously served as editor of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and the defunct Talk magazine.

The Beast will act as the digital operation of Newsweek, though for the time being, each entity will retain its name.  A wise decision, as neither NewsBeast nor The Daily Week  inspire confidence. It's a May/December wedding of a stodgy 77-year-old news magazine and an edgy 2-year-old Web site.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Soccer Star Scores Libel Win Against UK Daily

Cristiano Ronaldo during his spell at Real Madrid.Image via Wikipedia
Tip of the hat to media law Web site www.stinkyjournalism.org for noticing an Associated Press account of a successful defamation suit against UK Daily Telegraph by soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo will receive legal fees and undisclosed damages from the daily newspaper for its July 18, 2008, erroneous account of  Ronaldo's purported conduct at a Los Angeles nightclub following his attendance at a sports awards program at which he was a nominee for Best International Male Athlete. Ronaldo, who plays for Real Madrid, but in 2008 was a Manchester United standout, was injured and using crutches when he attended the awards event and post-ceremony nightclub celebration.

According to the Daily Telegraph story, Ronaldo consumed ample Cristal champagne and discarded his crutches to shake his groove thing with four models on the nightclub dance floor.  The footballer's attorney alleged in a defamation suit that the Telegraph article embarrassed the winger/forward, harmed his reputation among teammates and fans, and was false.  Although Ronaldo was at the nightclub, he neither consumed alcohol nor danced, his lawyer claimed.

The Daily Telegraph posted an apology online on Nov. 9 in which it conceded that Ronaldo was not "living it up" or acting unprofessionally and acknowledged that it wrongly suggested he was imbibing alcohol and dancing while ostensibly recuperating from his injury. The apology concluded: "We would like to apologise to Christiano for the embarrassment and offence our report caused to him as a professional who takes his health, fitness and recovery from injury seriously and are happy to set the record straight."

As Spanish soccer announcer Andres Cantor might say: "Libellllllll!"

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Employer Gets Facebook Slap from NLRB For Firing Worker Over Posts

Union members picketing outside the National L...Image via Wikipedia
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the independent federal agency charged with safeguarding employees' rights and targeting unfair labor practices, has sued ambulance company American Medical Response of Connecticut, Inc. (AMR) regarding the firing of an employee who  called her supervisor derogatory names in off-hours Facebook posts.

The NLRB has scheduled a hearing on January 25, 2011, in the case involving Dawnmarie Souza.  According to the action initiated by the NLRB's Hartford, Conn., office,  a customer complained about Souza in November 2009, which prompted her superiors to request that she write up an incident report.  Souza asked for representation from her union, Teamsters Local 443, but her request was denied, and her supervisors allegedly threatened to discipline her over her representation request, according to the complaint.

From her home computer later that same day, Souza allegedly posted on Facebook, purportedly calling her supervisor a dick and a scumbag.  AMR fired Souza in December 2009, for violating the company's Internet policy that prohibits company-related posts without permission.

The NLRB asserts that AMR's policy is overbroad and its dismissal of Souza illegal, taking the position that social media policies that restrict negative comments about superiors violate labor laws that guarantee employees' right to address matters such as working conditions and wages. Besides the protected speech claim, the NLRB contends that Souza was illegally denied union representation.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wash. High Court: Federal Privacy Laws Pre-empt State Public Records Law

The interior of the Wasington State Supreme CourtImage via Wikipedia
In Ameriquest Mortgage Company v. En banc Washington State Office of the Attorney General (Case No. 82690-1), the Washington Supreme Court affirmed an appellate court decision that federal privacy laws pre-empt Washington's Public Records Act ("WPRA") [Ch. 42.56 RCW].

Attorney Melissa Huelsman in 2007 submitted a WPRA request to Washington's Attorney General's Office for records pertaining to the office's investigation into alleged predatory lending practices by Ameriquest. (Disclosure: "TUOL" in his litigation heyday sued Ameriquest on more than one occasion on behalf of Bay State homeowners.) A state trial court originally had ruled against an injunction sought by Ameriquest against the release of records it had turned over to the AG on the grounds that disclosure violated federal privacy statutes.

The Washington High Court agreed, interpreting the relevant federal laws as preventing financial institutions from releasing "nonpublic personal information" to unafilliated third parties. Such information would require redaction of customer-identifying data, and the WPRA prohibits the AG from producing altered information in response to a request under the Act.

Kudos to the Web site of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (www.rcfp.org) for reporting on this case.
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