Monday, January 31, 2011

Lie to Me, But Don't Steal from Me

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13: (L-R) Actress Ke...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeKudos to the always interesting Suffolk Media Law Newsletter, along with Courthouse News Service, for reporting on a Los Angeles County Superior Court case involving allegations that the idea for Lie to Me, a Fox TV drama starring English actor Tim Roth that just completed its third season, was purloined from an author and a production company after their negotiations with Fox to develop the series broke down.

Roderick Anscombe, Massachusetts author of the novel,  The Interview Room (2004), and Calif.-based John Gertz Productions, which purchased the screen rights to the novel in 2005 that yielded a screenplay entitled Lie to Lie, sued Fox, Imagine Entertainment and Fox exec Simon Andreae for breach of contract and breach of confidence. The complaint alleges that themes, plots and episodes of  Lie to Me are "strikingly similar" to Lie to Lie and concepts purportedly disclosed by plaintiffs during series development talks in Sept. 2007, with Fox.

The plaintiffs claim that Fox deceived them by debuting Lie to Me in January 2009, after purportedly informing the plaintiffs in late 2007 that the development project was being shelved. Anscombe's novel features a forensic psychiatrist who aids police in crime solving and specializes in detecting falsehoods.

In Lie to Me, Roth plays Dr. Cal Lightman, a body language expert, who assists authorities in criminal investigations by detecting lies. The pilot episode drew 12 million viewers, and is regularly watched by 6 million viewers on average three years into its run.

Fox has not officially commented on the suit. Wonder if the plaintiffs will hire a body language expert to see if  any tv execs squirm on the witness stand.  Radio comedian Fred Allen once said: "Imitation is the sincerest form of television."  Perhaps that will be offered as a defense at trial.

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Texas Judge Quashes Subpoena--Reporter Won't Testify in Murder Trial

The Denton County, Texas courthouse located at...Image via WikipediaDenton (Texas) Record-Chronicle Reporter Donna Fielder will not have to testify in the trial of Charles Stobaugh, who is accused of murdering his estranged wife Kathy Stobaugh, after 362nd Judicial District Judge Bruce McFarling ruled she was shielded by the 2009 Texas Free Flow of Information Act ("TFFIA") [H.B. 670], the Texas daily reports.

Judge McFarling quashed the subpoena by defense counsel to compel Fielder's testimony, ruling it was overbroad and noncompliant with statutory requirements, such as the required signature of District Attorney Paul Johnson. Defense counsel argued that Stobaugh's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial trumped any claim of reporter's privilege, further asserting that Fielder had access to information that could refute investigators' testimony against their client.

Kathy Stobaugh disappeared Dec. 29, 2004, after leaving behind her two teen-aged children in their rental home to discuss divorce terms with the defendant at the family farm. Her body has never been recovered.

Under TFFIA, a journalist has absolute privilege against having to reveal confidential sources in a criminal case unless the reporter witnesses a felony, receives a confession or probable cause exists that a source committed a felony. Before a reporter may be compelled to testify or produce information, the party issuing the subpoena must demonstrate that the material or testimony is relevant and material to the case, essential to the claim of the person requesting it, and that all reasonable efforts to obtain the information elsewhere have been exhausted.

Judge McFarling also rejected defense counsel's efforts to bar Fielder from covering the trial under the "sworn witness" rule.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

UPDATE: Supreme Court Won't Hear Fair Report Privilege Appeal

U.S. Supreme CourtImage via WikipediaThe U.S. Supreme Court this week denied certiorari in the appeal of Salzano v. North Jersey Media Group d/b/a The Record et al. (No. 10-616), letting stand a decision by the N.J. Supreme Court (Case No. A 78-79, Sept. 2008 Term) upholding the fair report privilege for journalists in defamation suits.

New Jersey's High Court overturned a ruling by an intermediate appellate court that said the privilege had no application to initial allegations in civil proceedings, only reports of final decisions, according to  The N.J. Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the fair report privilege encompasses defamatory statements contained in filed pleadings that have yet to come before a judicial officer. (See "TUOL" post 5/12/10.)

The privilege protects journalists from liability if they produce fair and substantially accurate accounts of information in an official government record or issues discussed in a government proceeding, even if the information proves to be incorrect.  The plaintiff sued The Record based on a March 2006, article concerning a bankruptcy court complaint involving the plaintiff and a telecommunications company.

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Digital Daily Debuts on Groundhog Day

Frank Lloyd Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Mus...Image via WikipediaThe Daily, Rupert Murdoch's $30 million digital journalism entry, will be unveiled in Manhattan's Guggenheim Museum on Feb. 2, reports

More than 160 staffers will produce News Corp.'s tablet journalism from the media giant's New York headquarters. Subscribers will pay 99 cents weekly to receive the publication on their iPads. Though never formally announced, The Daily was slated to be introduced at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Jan. 19, but there has been no official explanation for Murdoch's change of heart or coast regarding where to roll out the new digital media product.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

You Don't Mess With the Sony

Cover of "You Don't Mess With the Zohan (...Cover via AmazonRest easily--the end of copyright infringement lawsuits against Hollywood comedies may be at hand.

A week after a federal judge in California ordered Sheri Gilbert to pay nearly $900,000 in costs and attorneys' fees for bringing a frivolous copyright infringement lawsuit alleging her screenplay was purloined to make the Jennifer Lopez/Jane Fonda vehicle Monster In-Law (see "TUOL" post 1/21/11), a U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York has socked author Robert Cabell with $1,000 bill in attorneys' fees and costs for his copyright infringement suit against the makers of You Don't Mess With the Zohan (2008).

In May 2010, Judge William H. Pauley III granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, dismissing Cabell's copyright infringement and unfair competition claims in Cabell v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc. et al, (Case No. 09-cv-1610), 714 F. Supp.2d 452 (2010). Zohan starred Adam Sandler as a former Israeli special forces soldier who comes to the U.S. to become a hairdresser. Cabell alleged the screenplay infringed on his series of light-hearted stories featuring a gay ex-U.S. Navy Seal named Jayms Blonde and his archnemesis ZENRON (Zealous Environmental Nazis Ruthlessly Obliterating Nature). Hmm, sounds more like a Rob Schneider movie than an Adam Sandler flick.

To prevail in a copyright infringement action, Cabell had to show that the defendants had access to his copyrighted Blonde tales and that there was a "substantial similarity" regarding protectible materials in the Blonde and Zohan stories. Judge Pauley found no such similarity, noting that Cabell's stories parody secret agent 007 James Bond and are replete with innuendo, whereas Zohan's humor was derived from extreme stereotypes of Israelis and Arabs. 

The Copyright Act allows a court to "award a reasonable attorneys' fee to the prevailing party." [17 U.S.C. sec. 505.] Factors courts consider before making such a ruling include the defendant's success obtained on the claim, the frivolousness of the plaintiff's claim, the reasonableness of plaintiff's factual and legal arguments, and the need for deterrence and compensation.
Attorneys for the defendants sought attorneys' fees and costs against Cabell in the amount of nearly $570,000. Judge Pauley agreed with defense counsel that the plaintiff's claims were objectively unreasonable, but based on Cabell's financial circumstances, ordered him to pay $1,000.

Ideas themselves may not be copyrighted. Not a problem here, because there are no ideas in You Don't Mess With the Zohan, comedic or otherwise.

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ESPN Gives Legitimate Sports Journalism the Boot

Erin Andrews at the 2008 Oklahoma State vs. Mi...Image via WikipediaDuring her stint as sideline reporter at the Rose Bowl New Year's Day, ESPN's Erin Andrews commented on  incidents of Texas Christian University players slipping on the turf, which she attributed to the poor traction of the Nike Zoom Alpha Talon Cleats the TCU players were wearing.

Intrepid reporting by an ESPN journalist, going the extra yard reporting on feet? Maybe not, according to an article in The Oregonian, that notes Andrews is a celebrity endorser of Canton, Mass.-based Reebok's ZigTech exercise sneaker.  Sounds like a conflict of interest afoot.

It's fair game for journalists to comment on the quality of products unless they are accepting money to endorse the products at issue or those of a competitor.  The latest "Don't bee" example of sports journalism comes on the heels of, as it were, ESPN suspending anchor Will Salva for plagiarism (see "TUOL" post 12/30/10) and giving NBA star LeBron James the keys to the studio by allowing him to call the shots on "The Decision" broadcast in which he revealed he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat (See "TUOL" post 7/8/10).

Hey ESPN ("Everyone Shills & Plagiarizes, No?")--if you listen carefully, you can hear the ghosts of  sports writers Red Smith, Damon Runyon & Heywood Hale Broun whimpering.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ay carumba! Spanish Media Conglomerate Slashes 2,500 jobs

El PaísImage via WikipediaGrupo Prisa (Promotora de Informaciones, S.A.), the Spanish media giant that owns magazines, radio stations, television stations and newspapers, including El Pais, Spain's largest daily, will pare its worldwide work force of  14,000 by 18 percent, or 2,500 jobs, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

The employee layoffs, or despidos de empleados, will entail 2,000 jobs in Spain and another 500 positions in  Portugal and the U.S. combined.  Delaware-based Liberty Acquisitions Holdings Corp. acquired Grupo Prisa last November in a debt-reduction move

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Summit's Nadir

Seal of the United States bankruptcy court. Ch...Image via WikipediaSaddled with $252 million in debts and unsecured claims, New York-based business-to-business publisher Summit Business Media Holding Co., has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware (In re Summit Business Media Holding Co., Case No. 11-10231), according to a Reuters article.

Summit covers the property/casualty insurance, life/health insurance, investment advisory and global mining and professional services markets through its 16 magazines, 20 Web sites and roughly 150 reference titles. The recession, heavy debt burden and ad revenues drying up are blamed for pushing Summit into bankruptcy.

Chicago-based private equity firm Wind Point Partners  presently holds 85 percent of Summit's equity. Summit, which has targeted the first half of 2011 for its re-emergence from insolvency, anticipates converting $188 million in senior secured debt into new loans totaling $116 million, enabling creditors to own 89 percent of equity in the re-organized company, according to the Reuters article.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fledgling Photog to U.K. Daily: Pay Up for Using My Photo

Daily MailImage via picked up a story in the British Journal of Photography involving student photographer Thomas Welfoot, whose photo of a student protester turning a fire extinguisher on authorities apparently appeared five times in the print and online versions of The Daily Mail without his permission.

Welfoot sold his photo to Sky News, but sent the Mail a bill seeking 1,000 pounds ($1,599) for the repeated unauthorized use of his photo.  The Mail, in turn, offered him 150 pounds ($240). The Daily Mail was recently sued by a celebrity photography agency for unauthorized use of its photos. Readers and professionals have weighed in on the matter, some acknowledging that the student shutterbug's invoice was excessive, while others consider the fee adequate punishment for the Mail's alleged commandeering of the photo. As with most photo disputes, we'll have to wait and see what develops (first pun of 2011).
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Ongo Digital Social News Site Debuts at a Price

Image representing Alex Kazim as depicted in C...Image by Tokoni / Alex Kazim via CrunchBaseStaked to $12 million in start-up money from Gannett Co., The Washington Post and The New York Times, Cupertino, Calif.-based Ongo, Inc., has debuted its personal digital news service with a $6.99 a month subscription rate, according to an article on and a company press release.

Founded by former eBay and PayPal executive Alex Kazim, Ongo's social news site offers users content aggregated from USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The Financial Times, Slate and the Associated Press. Behind Ongo's paywall are features including a clippings function that allows users to create a personal archive, a search function, and Ongo Home, a single front page format displaying what editors consider the day's principal news stories and other stories of interest.

Ongo plans to offer a mobile phone app in the future. The site is  The company is offering a one-day, free access pass that won't require a credit card. Subscribers who sign-up will receive a one-month trial at no charge.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

International Court Comes to the Rescue of UK Journalists

Naomi Campbell at FashionWeekLive in San Franc...Image via WikipediaThe always informative Web site for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press ( reported last week on a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (MGN, Ltd. v. United Kingdom, App. No. 39401/04) that will shield journalists and bloggers in the U.K. who lose invasion of privacy or libel suits from onerous "success fees."

The  international court found the imposition of solicitor fees and court costs on unsuccessful media defendants a violation of their civil and political rights.  The underlying lawsuit involved volatile supermodel Naomi Campbell, who successfully sued Daily Mirror publisher MGN, Ltd. for breach of confidentiality under the Data Protection Act of 1998. Although Campbell's damages were only 3500 pounds ($5,597)--more than the combined weight of 35 supermodels--the media defendant was assessed "success fees" totaling 1.1 million pounds ($1.7 million).

The European Court of Human Rights found the assessment disproportionate to the damages suffered by the plaintiff and an attempt to stifle freedom of expression pursuant to Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights. The ruling may effect England's use of conditional fee agreements, which similiar to their U.S. counterpart, contingent fee agreements, enable libel plaintiffs to secure counsel willing to operate under the no-win, no-fee arrangement.

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D.A.'s Libel Suit DOA

Official seal of City of SanduskyImage via WikipediaErie County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court Judge William Coyne last week tossed a defamation suit brought by Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter against the Sandusky Register, according to the Associated Press.

Baxter alleged in his complaint that the Register invented false testimony, distorted facts and relied on discredited defamatory statements in publishing a story alleging that a narcotics agent testified about Baxter's purported cocaine use.

Judge Coyne found no evidence of actual malice by the daily to suggest that it sought to harm Baxter's reputation by its reporting.  For its part, the Register said it stood by its reporting.

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BBC Online Slashing Budget & Trimming Staff

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02:  A BBC logo adorns...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThe British Broadcasting Corp. is targeting 2013 as the date of a major reorganization of BBC Online that will mean a 25 percent budget reduction and the loss of as many as 360 posts, according to Web site (

BBC Online will reduce its service budget by 34 million pounds ($54,386, 653) to 103 million pounds ($164,777,630) from 137 million pounds ($219,170,246) and phase out 360 posts over the next two years.  BBC Online's reconfiguration will focus on 10 areas: sports, weather, news, knowledge & learning, radio & music, tv & iPlayer, CBBC, CBeebies, homepage and search, according to

BBC Online has no plans to launch its own social network or to publish local listings. The cutbacks are part of the public broadcaster's Putting Quality First strategy.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Taking the Globe for a Spin

DORCHESTER, MA - MAY 4:  A man walks by the fr...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeA 37-year-old Internet mogul and greeting card magnate is readying a bid over the next couple of months to present to The New York Times to purchase The Boston Globe, according to a Globe story today.

Aaron Kushner of Wellesley, Mass., has the backing of 64-year-old Benjamin Taylor, former Globe publisher, and his cousin, Stephen Taylor, 59, a former executive vice-president at the Globe, for the venture. The Taylor family sold the Globe to the Times in 1993 for $1.1 billion.  Benjamin & Stephen Taylor were unsuccessful in their 2009 bid to reacquire New England's largest daily.

Kushner's venture, dubbed 2100 Trust, is looking to build sufficient capital to purchase the New England Media Group, which includes the Globe, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and from the Times.  No word from the Times about whether the Globe is for sale. Any deal would not include the Times divesting its 17 percent ownership interest in the Boston Red Sox and its sports affiliated properties, according to the Globe story.

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What's a Gray Lady Behind the Wall Worth?

Logo of The New York Times.Image via WikipediaLast May, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller told attendees at a Foreign Press Assn. soiree that his paper expected to erect a paywall for online content beginning in January 2011. (See "TUOL" post 5/14/10.)
As the end of this month draws near, Bloomberg News and eagerly await a peek at the price tag for the online Times.

The publications report today that the Times is likely to charge less than $20 a month for access to online content, keeping in line with its monthly rates to digital users of  Kindle and other e-readers. The Times has yet to indicate the price schedule, other than to suggest that a metered system would be adopted that would assess fees after allowing a certain number of free articles to be viewed online.

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'American Alloy'? NY Post Reports ex-GOP Head Michael Steele May Join Fox News

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 14:  Incumbent Republ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeCiting an unnamed source, the New York Post reports that former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele may join Fox News Channel or CNN as a commentator.

After his ouster this month as RNC head by Reince Preibus (a treatable condition, "TUOL" understands), some pundits believed Steele would never be heard from again, which would, in fact, be the case if he joined CNN.  The Post item said both cable channels are talking with the 52-year-old Steele about becoming a paid contributor.

Steele was the controversial RNC chair, the first African-American to hold that post, from January 2009, to January 2011, when he bowed out of an election that became apparent to him he could not win. "TUOL" is delighted to offer unsolicited career advice to Steele: join Fox, where you could host a  program that would enable you to espouse the tenets of the GOP Platform. Another suggestion: call the show Soul-less Train.

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Copyright Ruling No Laughing Matter for Comedy Screenplay Writer

Cover of "Monster-in-Law (New Line Platin...Cover via AmazonFledgling comedy screenplay writer Sheri Gilbert may switch to horror films following U.S. District Court for the Central District of California Judge R. Gary Klausner's frightening ruling ordering her to pay defendants' attorneys' fees and cost in her unsuccessful copyright infringement suit, Gilbert v. New Line Productions, Inc. et al. (Case No. 2:09-cv-02231-RGK-RZ).

In a seven-page ruling, Judge Klausner ordered Gilbert to pay $894,983 in attorneys' fees and costs to the producers and stars of Monster In-Law (2005), who include Jennifer Lopez, Jane Fonda and Michael Vartan, as reported by Web site Gilbert filed suit in 2008 under the Copyright Act of 1976 [17 U.S.C. sec. 101 et seq.], citing "substantial similarities" between Monster In-Law and her screenplay, When Mom Is the Other Woman, drawn from her own experiences as the daughter-in-law of an overbearing mother-in-law.

Judge Klausner tossed most of Gilbert's claims in November 2009, finding "vast differences in characters, plot, mood and theme" between the two ouevres. Last August, he granted defendants' summary judgment motion dismissing the case and entertained their motion for attorneys' fees. The Copyright Act allows the court to "award a reasonable attorneys' fee to the prevailing party." [17 U.S.C. sec. 505.] Factors courts consider before making such a ruling include the defendant's success obtained on the claim, the frivolousness of the plaintiff's claim, the reasonableness of plaintiff's factual and legal arguments, and the need for deterrence and compensation.

In this instance, Judge Klausner said Gilbert's lawsuit was motivated by "bad faith." "TUOL" wonders why anyone would want to claim credit for the story that resulted in Monster In-Law, which film critic Roger Ebert awarded one star.
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

UPDATE: West Pub. Appeals $5m libel verdict

Taken in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in August...Image via WikipediaAttorneys for West Publishing are appealing a $5 million libel verdict awarded to two law professors last December by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

In David Rudovsky & Leonard Sosnov v. West Publishing Corp. et al. (Case No. 09-cv-00727-JF), the plaintiffs, Rudovsky, of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Sosnov, of Widener University School of Law, each was awarded $90,000 in compensatory damages and $2.5 million  in punitive damages. The two professors co-authored West's Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure: Law, Commentary & Forms in 1987 and continued to provide yearly updates, or pocket parts, containing recent cases and revisions to the law, for roughly two decades before walking away from the project in a dispute over compensation and royalties.

West published a pocket part in 2008 that contained only three cases and omitted significant changes in the law, in a version that listed Rudovsky & Sosnov "and the publisher's staff" as the authors.  The plaintiffs sued for defamation and right of publicity invasion of privacy, among other claims, asserting that their reputations were tarnished in the academic community by being associated with the shoddy update. (See "TUOL" post 6/10/09.)

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fla. Journos Whine About Guv's Inaccessibility & Slow Records Production

Generic image of rick scottImage via WikipediaNine Tallahassee newsers have complained to the Florida Society of News Editors that  Republican Gov. Rick Scott's administration is running a too-tight ship that has dragged its feet in producing requested public records and kept reporters seeking access to Florida's 45th Governor at bay.

According to an Associated Press story, Scott, a former health care executive, has kept reporters away from traditionally open events, such as a recent post-inauguration reception.  An Orlando Sentinel reporter recounted being told he would be socked with a $400 printing bill based on his request for public records.

Although whining is second-nature to most journalists, "TUOL" humbly suggests that the journalists would be better served by educating the private sector bigwig Scott about his obligations to the public through the use of the Florida Public Records Law (Fla. Stat. ch. 19) and the importance of open meetings via the Florida Sunshine Law (Fla. Stat. Sec. 286.011) and the Sunshine State's constitution (Art. 1, Sec. 24(b)) for openers.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jamaica's PM Presses for Libel Reform & Media Complaints Commission

Bruce GoldingImage via WikipediaSince he was elected  Jamaica's Prime Minister in 2007, Bruce Golding of the Labour Party has pledged to update the Greater Antilles island nation's outdated defamation laws. According to a post on, the Art Science Research Laboratory's media ethics project, Golding's proposed libel law reforms are moving ahead, but his plan for a Media Complaints Commission, which would field individuals' grievances about purported journalistic misdeeds as an alternative to costly litigation, remains stuck in neutral.

Golding endorsed revisions to defamation laws suggested by retired high court Justice Hugh Small, including abolition of common-law criminal libel, the supplanting of justification with truth as a defense to libel claims, and protections for journalists who reproduce stories from recognized reputable news organizations.

A Special Select Committee comprised of members from Jamaica's bicameral Parliament presently is reviewing the proposed changes to the law. Not included among the proposed reforms is a ceiling on damages recoverable under libel suits. The Press Assn. of Jamaica said establishment of a Media Complaints Commission remains at the drawing board stage.

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UPDATE: FCC Blesses Comcast & NBC Universal Marriage

Image representing Comcast as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseThe FCC today voted 4-1 to approve cable giant Comcast's purchase of NBC Universal from General Electric, which is expected to be finalized later this month, marking the first time a broadcast network will be cable owned (see "TUOL" post 12/04/09).

The combined media conglomerate will boast more than 16.5 million  broadband subscribers, 23 million cable viewers and a bevy of familiar cable channels, including Bravo, MSNBC and USA, according to a story in today's Washington Post.

Although the FCC found the purchase to be in the "public interest," it did impose certain requirements on the new media monolith. Comcast/NBC was allowed to retain its stake in Hulu, which Walt Disney Co. owns, along with NBC  and News Corp.  Comcast, however, will have to offer its content on the Internet to online video distributors at the same rate and under the same conditions as offered to cable and satellite providers, and must also boost its diversity programming for Spanish-speaking viewers, among other conditions.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

UPDATE: Indigent Counsel Billing Docs Public Records

The interior of the Wasington State Supreme CourtImage via WikipediaThe Washington Supreme Court has ruled that billing records submitted by counsel for indigent murder defendants are subject to the state's Public Records Act of 1972 [42.56 RCW], despite having been sealed by a judge.

The ABA Journal Law News Now blog reports that Washington's High Court also awarded costs and attorneys fees that could run into six figures to The Yakima Herald-Republic, which sought the court-appointed counsel billing information in the drug-related murder trial of Jose Luis Sanchez Jr. and Mario Gil Mendez, who were blamed for the 2005 killings of Ricky Causor and his three-year-old daughter, Mya Causor. (See "TUOL" post 3/11/10.) Mendez pleaded guilty and Sanchez is appealing his conviction in 2007.

The Sanchez defense cost taxpayers  $1.5 million and another $560,000 in defense costs for Mendez. A judge charged with overseeing defense counsel spending in the case ordered the billing records sealed, though they were forwarded to the county auditor and board of commissioners so that counsel could be paid. The Yakima Herald-Republic was rebuffed in its efforts to obtain the records under the public records law by officials who feared being held in contempt of court if they produced the sealed documents.

The Supreme Court ruling remands to the trial court the lion's share of the case for new determinations consistent with the high court decision. The Washington Supreme Court faulted officials for shifting its burden to cite an exemption under the public records act to the newspaper, thereby forcing the daily to sue for the data.

Only court records that are exclusively held by the courts are exempt under the public records law, the high court ruled unanimously. Two defense attorneys appointed to represent the defendants were discharged by the court in 2006 for unethical conduct that purportedly led to the wasting of $1 million in taxpayer funds, according to a probe by the AG's office.

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Facebook Seeks to Dismiss Class-Action Privacy Suits

Facebook's homepage features a login form on t...Image via WikipediaSocial Network Goliath Facebook has filed a 25-page Motion to Dismiss Consolidated Class Action Complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to derail two separate lawsuits alleging violation of users' privacy, according to a story in The Recorder cited on

In In re Facebook Privacy Litigation (Case No. 10-cv-02389), lawyers for Facebook argue the plaintiffs lack standing, failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted, and neither suffered injury nor damages. One suit, filed last October, claims Facebook breached its own privacy policy by sharing users' personal information with advertisers, while another, filed in November, alleges users' photos to promote "Friend Finder" were appropriated by Facebook without permission. 

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Iraq Appeals Court Flips Guardian Libel Verdict

Nouri al-Maliki meets with George W. Bush.Image via WikipediaKudos to the Media Law Prof Blog ( for reporting on a Dec. 28 decision by an Iraqi appeals court that reversed a libel verdict against The Guardian and its correspondent Ghaith Abdul-Ahad for an April 2009, story critical of Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraq National Intelligence Service (INIS).

In November 2009, the Al-Karakh primary court ruled The Guardian  article that characterized al-Maliki as autocratic was defamatory and fined the newspaper 100,000,000 dinar ($82,513). After consulting nine experts selected by the Iraqi Union of Journalists, the appeal court adopted the panel's unanimous opinion that the article neither harmed nor defamed al-Maliki or the INIS.

 The potential positive impact of the defamation decision on press freedom in the Middle East overcomes the libel case's lack of celebrities and prostitutes (see "TUOL" post 1/14/11).

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Federal Judge Whistles Beckham Offsides on Call Girl Depo Request

David Beckham, England, own work (by ger1axg).Image via WikipediaU.S. District Court for the Central District of California (Western Division) Judge Manuel L. Real has shot down soccer great David Beckham's motion to depose pre-discovery ex-high-priced hooker Irma Nici, a defendant in his $25 million defamation suit against the publisher of In Touch Weekly.

As reported by Matthew Heller on, Beckham sued based on a graphic article in the October 4, 2010, issue of In Touch entitled "David's Dangerous Betrayal," that alleges Beckham had sexual liaisons with Nici--who purportedly once worked as a $10,000-a-night prostitute-- in London and New York City, including a "girl-on-girl" show involving another prostitute.  The magazine paid Nici $50,000 for her exclusive story, but Beckham, who is married to former Spice Girls chanteuse Victoria Posh Spice (Adams) Beckham, denies even having met Nici.

The lawsuit, David V. Beckham v. Bauer Publishing Co. et al. (Case No. 2:10-cv-07980-R) includes a cross-complaint by Nici against Beckham. Bauer, which is based in Germany, filed a motion under California's anti-Slapp ("Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation") statute [Cal. Civ. Proc. Code Sec. 425.16] to strike the complaint on free speech grounds, asserting that the story involves a matter of "public interest."

Beckham's attorneys argued that deposing Nici and In Touch Weekly's editor was necessary to prepare a response to the anti-SLAPP motion. Judge Real, however, disputed that call, ruling that Beckham's request was a "fishing expedition" that  failed to satisfy the legal goal, as it were, of showing the discovery was essential to opposing the anti-SLAPP motion.

The 35-year-old Beckham is a midfielder for the LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer and a former Manchester United star.

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