Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mutual of Omaha: Buffett & World-Herald Share the Love

President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett in t...Image via WikipediaBillionaire Berkshire Hathaway Chair Warren Buffett continues to bolster his Nebraska presence with the purchase of the Omaha World-Herald ("OWH"), the paper announced today.

Berkshire Hathaway will be acquiring OWH, the nation's 49th largest daily newspaper, from the Peter Kiewith Foundation and the paper's employee shareholders.  The paper had been the nation's last employee-owned major daily as Berkshire Hathaway is poised to become its fifth owner since it was founded in 1885. Terry Kroeger is expected to remain as the paper's publisher and president, according to the OWH online story.

The OWH owns a number of smaller papers, including the Council Bluffs (Iowa) Nonpareil along with papers in North Platte and Scottsbluff, Nebraska, among other publications.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

UPDATE: Hartford Courant Settles 'Hot News' Copyright Suit with Journal-Inquirer

Hartford CourantImage via WikipediaSettlement terms were not disclosed, but the Tribune Co.-owned Hartford Courant earlier this month quietly ended its defense of a copyright infringement/"hot news" suit brought against it by the Manchester Journal-Inquirer (see "TUOL" post 12/4/09), reported.

The Journal Inquirer sued for $1.65 million, claiming that the Courant plagiarized its stories about education and local water issues, posting some on the Courant Web site without attribution. The Courant apologized to its readers in September 2009 (see "TUOL" post 9/4/09) for its ersatz news aggregating practices.

With the parties' out-of-court resolution, journalism junkies are deprived of seeing the Journal Inquirer's "stealing news" accusation played out in open court. The Courant had contended that its news aggregating came under the fair use exception to the plaintiff's copyright infringement count, and denied the re-written stories at issue constituted "hot news." The so-called hot news doctrine, which amounts to a property right in information, dates back to an Associated Press case decided by the Supreme Court in 1913, but enjoyed a revival of sorts last year with a New York case involving a financial services Website.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Societe Generale Banking on Libel Suit Against U.K. Paper

Two hot-air balloons from Societe Generale and...Image via WikipediaSociete Generale, France's second largest bank, has sued Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Mail on Sunday, for defamation based on an article last August claiming the financial services institution was on "the brink of disaster" and in a "perilous" state.

The Guardian reports that the Mail on Sunday  retracted the article and published an online apology, but Societe Generale said no dice, claiming the Website "oops" was difficult to find and that the paper had failed to publish in its print edition that the original article was not true.

Societe Generale alleges it sustained "substantial damage to its reputation and prejudice to its trade" because of the inaccurate Mail on Sunday article. For its part, the defendant contends it already said it was sorry and plans to contest the suit.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Calif. Federal Judge Protects Anonymity of Blogger Against Spirtual Group Subpoena

Seal of the en:United States District Court fo...Image via WikipediaIn  her 16-page opinion in Art of Living Foundation v. Does 1-10 (Case No. 10-cv-05022), United States District Judge for the Northern District of California Lucy H. Koh last week ruled against a spiritual organization that had subpoenaed Google and Automattic, Inc. to obtain the identity of Skywalker, who publishes two blogs critical of the group.

The Art of Living Foundation ("ALF") sued unnamed defendants in November 2010 for defamation, trade libel, misappropriation of trade secrets and copyright infringement based on two blogs' publication of ALF's "Breath Water Sound Manual" and teaching methods. The blogs, "Leaving the Art of Living" and "Beyond the Art of Living" are written by an anonymous poster under the pseudonym Skywalker, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Web site (

ALF celebrates the spiritual lessons of "His Holiness Ravi Shankar" that emphasize yoga, meditation and breathing relaxation skills. Skywalker and his supporters argue the plaintiff is attempting to use its copyright as a tool to suppress their free speech rights. The defendants challenged ALF's subpoenas of the Internet Service Providers without revealing their identities.

To the degree anonymity encourages an individual to speak freely, Judge Koh wrote, compelling the disclosure of Skywalker's name "diminishes the free exchange of ideas guaranteed by the Constitution." Judge Koh indicated in her ruling that as the lawsuit proceeds to the discovery stage, the issue of anonymity may be revisited and the defendant blogger may not be able to continue to conceal his identity.

But at least for now, as Obi-Wan Kenobi used to say: "Use the courts, young Skywalker, use the courts..."

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Orlando Sentinel Pink Slips 16 Staffers

Orlando SentinelImage via, via MediaWire, reports that 16 staffers, including a dozen full-time newsroom personnel, have been laid off by the Tribune Co.-owned Orlando Sentinel.

Although the paper has not confirmed the latest round of staff cutbacks, among those set free was Roger Moore (the movie critic, not the former 007 star). Mark Russell (the Editor, not the political satirist) informed staffers of the newsroom trimming on Wednesday. Reportedly, many of the casualties were part of the paper's copy desk.

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Hawaii Guv Can't Lei Low; Court Orders Doc Disclosure Under Open Records Law

Neil Abercrombie, member of the United States ...Image via WikipediaThe Honolulu Star-Bulletin has prevailed in a tiff with Gov. Neil Abercrombie over the latter's refusal to identify judical candidates, according to reports by Associated Press and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (

After Gov. Abercrombie declined to release the names of four of six judicial candidates recommended to him by the state's Judicial Selection Commission ("JSC") to fill a Hawaii Supreme Court chair that ultimately went to Judge Sabrina McKenna, the Star-Bulletin sued under Hawaii's Uniform Information Practices Act ("UIPA") [HRS c. 92F], the Aloha State's open records law.

Circuit Court Judge Karl Sakamoto this week sided with the daily, noting that the Hawaii Supreme Court previously has ruled that only the JSC is required to maintain the secrecy of a list of judicial hopefuls. The governor's office had argued both that disclosure would violate the privacy of those under consideration for a judgeship and that releasing names would deter individuals from being attracted to serving on the state's courts. The court specifically rejected the former argument, finding that the list, which only contained the candidates' names and no other personal information, was not invasive of their privacy rights.

The state has yet to reveal whether it plans to appeal Judge Sakamoto's ruling.  Despite the win, the Star-Bulletin will have to wait several months before it actually acquires the list of nominees because procedurally, the daily's lawyers must draft an order for the court's approval that must be reviewed by the attorney general's office before the court can execute it.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Social Media Giants Try to Stop STOP

Stop Sign Where Motorists Halt Their Vehicles ...Image by The U.S. National Archives via FlickrThe Stop Online Piracy Act ("STOP")[H.R.3261], which aims to allow intellectual property holders to ward off infringing foreign Websites, has drawn spirited opposition from a Who's Who of social media behemoths, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo, AOL, eBay and Zynga, according to Findlaw's Technologist blog.

The social media moguls fear STOP will curtail job-creation and promote censorship. The measure would, among other things, empower the Attorney General to obtain court orders requiring ISPs to block access to offending Websites, prevent ISPs, advertisers and credit card companies from servicing infringing Websites if requested by a rights holder, and remove the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) that shield ISPs acting in good faith.

Facebook, Google et al. want continued protection under the DMCA, which they consider the "cornerstone of the U.S. Internet and technology industry's growth and success." Proponents of STOP argue the bill would facilitate the purchase of content and goods from legitimate Websites by users because it would block counterfeit sites.
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PM's Captured Chat Could Spark Legal Action

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle...Image via WikipediaJohn Key, New Zealand's 38th Prime Minister, may seek a legal remedy to prevent an off-handed conversation at an Epsom tea party last week from appearing in The Herald on Sunday newspaper, according to the Website

The newspaper acquired the video from a freelance cameraperson who inadvertently captured the PM's remarks, which purportedly could prove embarrassing if disclosed. The paper is likely to contend, Media law experts in New Zealand suggest, that revealing the contents of the video would be in the public's interest. A possible recourse for Key could be New Zealand's Crimes Act, which requires the parties' knowledge before a private recording may be made. Pursuing civil action under an invasion of privacy claim might prove unsuccessful because the tea party event was publicized and well-attended by media, the Website reports.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Teacher Loses Face, Job After Facebook Rant Against Students

Facebook logoImage via WikipediaPatterson, N.J. elementary school teacher Jennifer O'Brien, who has been on administrative leave since March 2010, because of a derisive comment she posted about her students to her 300 Facebook buddies, should lose her tenured post, Administrative Law Judge Ellen Bass has ruled.

As reported by Forbes via the Mobiledia tech blog, Judge Bass wrote O'Brien "demonstrated a complete lack of sensitivity to the world in which her students live." Following a day last year in which one of her first-grade minions allegedly struck her and another student purportedly stole money from her, O'Brien posted on Facebook: "I'm not a teacher--I'm a warden for future criminals!"

Her virtual outburst sparked protests outside her school by parents and concerns by school administrators that the comment may have been racially tinged.  ("TUOL" is a N.J. native and can confirm that low-income, crime-ridden Patterson is not considered a vacation escape.) Judge Bass' ruling may cause hand-wringing among the social media free speecharati, but a body of case law supports the notion that although O'Brien has a First Amendment right to vent against her pupils, she has no corresponding right to be a teacher when her speech, which was not political in nature, embarrasses her employer.
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Newsweek Running Out of Swords for Higher-Ups to Fall On

Cover of the January 16, 1939 issue of Newswee...Image via WikipediaThe New York Times reported yesterday that Publisher Ray Chelstowski, Managing Editor Tom Weber and Executive Editor Edward Felsenthal are all out at beleaguered Newsweek.

Moribund ad sales reportedly are to blame for the management team shake-up in which Chelstowski purportedly was ousted and Weber and Felsenthal resigned. Last year, the once-venerable newsweekly magazine merged with The Daily Beast to form the Newsweek Daily Beast Co. under editor-in-chief Tina Brown (see "TUOL" post 11/12/10).
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Chelsea's Bridge to a Journalism Career?

Chelsea Clinton speaking to a group of student...Image via WikipediaGiven the economic hard times that have befallen the field of print and broadcast journalism and the surfeit of debt-ridden j-school grads flooding the marketplace, it's heartwarming when an industry powerhouse such as the NBC Nightly News takes a flyer on a fresh young face.

So, according to Bloomberg News, NBC ("Nothing But Celebrities") News has hired 31-year-old former First Daughter, Chelsea Clinton, to be a full-time special correspondent for NBC News' "Making a Difference" segments. The feature reports, which air on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and may also be showcased on the newsmagazine "Rock Center with Brian Williams," focus on individuals who volunteer in their communities to improve the lives of others.

Clinton will continue her work for her family's William J. Clinton Foundation while handling her tv duties. In 2009, NBC hired Jenna Bush Hagar to be a part-time correspondent on Today (see "TUOL" post 8/31/09), while MSNBC boasts Meghan McCain as a contributor. NBC's presidential kiddie corps may not compare all that favorably to alumni such as Tom Brokaw, John Chancellor, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, but at least the Peacock Network is offering entry level jobs and we need all the "job creators" we can get.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fired Spider-Man Director's Copyright Suit Has Producers Climbing the Walls

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 08:  A sign for the Br...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeOh, what a litigious web we weave....

Director/writer Julie Taymor, who last March was relieved from the helm of the controversy-plagued $75 million Broadway play, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, has filed a $1 million copyright infringement suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In her complaint, Julie Taymor & Loh, Inc. v. 8 Legged Productions, LLC et al (Case No. 1:2011-cv-08002), the plaintiff alleges the musical's producers, Glen Berger, Jeremiah Harris and Michael Cohl, breached a contract that allegedly gave her approval rights over changes to the play's book and owe her royalties for performances since April when the snake-bit (radioactive spider-bit?) production was revamped. She further alleges the adapted version of her stage directions and dialogue currently playing on Broadway constitute copyright infringement.

Other named defendants include Savior Productions, LLC, Goodbye Entertainment, LLC, and Hello Entertainment, LLC.  Judge Richard J. Holwell is presiding over the case.

The defendants have yet to respond to the complaint, which was filed November 8, but already, "TUOL"'s intellectual property-sense is tingling.

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Nigerian Authorities Offsides on Newsroom Raid Over Soccer Story

Sepp Blatter in Warsaw, 2007Image via WikipediaThe offices of  The National Accord, an Abuja, Nigeria-based daily newspaper, allegedly were ransacked by authorities, and its editor arrested, based on articles concerning a purported scandal involving the Nigeria Football Federation ("NFF").

National Accord Editor Olajide Fashikun told the Associated Press that he was released on bail, but police retained his laptop computer and hard drive concerning an NFF-initiated slander probe. The daily has reported about an alleged letter containing the purportedly forged signature of  Sepp Blatter, president of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

The AP reported that the Nigerian government's harassment of journalists is commonplace.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Holistic Healer Laying Hands on $1m Defamation Judgment from Minn. ABC Affiliate

Entrance to the KSTP studios on University Ave...Image via WikipediaABC Minnesota affiliate KSTP-TV will appeal a $1 million defamation judgment--the largest such award against a broadcaster in the state's history--awarded to a Wisconsin naturopathy healer for a 2009 story alleging she told a client to discontinue taking an anti-anxiety medication.

According to reports by Associated Press and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Website (, the healer, Susan Anderson, then-known as Susan Wahl, denied dispensing that advice to Cheryl Blaha, and, after a five-day trial, a Dakota County (Minn.) jury agreed, awarding Anderson $100,000 consequential damages for lost past and future income, and $900,000 in damages based on a finding that the broadcaster acted with actual malice in airing the story in March 2009. The jury passed on awarding the plaintiff punitive damages.

In the KSTP story, Blaha, also a defendant in the case along with her spouse, claimed she attempted suicide after heeding the healer's alleged advice to cease taking the anti-anxiety medication.  The jury found the tv station failed to verify Blaha's allegation, noting the absence of a medical record reflecting a suicide attempt, along with testimony from the woman's physician that he recommended she stopping taking the drug at issue.

The station is appealing the verdict, both claiming that it fairly reported both sides of the story and that the mammoth jury award was unsupported by the evidence.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Iowa Dems Socked With Libel Judgment

President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain...Image via WikipediaIn the 2008 presidential election, President Barack Obama bested Sen. John McCain in Iowa by a margin of 54 percent to 44 percent. His prospects of carrying the state in 2012 aren't as certain, and if one believes in omens, a $50,000 libel judgment against the Iowa Democratic Party last week isn't a good sign.

According to an Associated Press account, the Daily Nonpareil reports that a  Pottawattamie County jury found  plaintiff Randy Higginbotham was defamed by the Iowa Democratic Party in a 2008 campaign pamphlet. According to the AP story, the campaign literature from the 2008 House seat race between Democrat Paul Shomshor and Republican challenger Scott Belt described Higginbotham as a convicted sex offender whom Belt allegedly had bailed out of jail in 1994.

Unfortunately for the Iowa Dems, who relied on an independent research firm for the pamphlet's content, Higginbotham, though arrested, was never convicted of any sex-related crime, his lawyer told the AP.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Mgt. to NY Daily News Staffers: 'Drop Dead'

American journalist Joseph Medill Patterson (1...Image via WikipediaIn fairness, the tone of the poor economy-based staff reductions announced at the New York Daily News do not match the tabloid's famous Ford to City: Drop Dead headline regarding a 1975 speech delivered by President Gerald Ford in which he opposed bailing out New York from an imminent bankruptcy.

Still, the nation's fourth-largest selling daily newspaper, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, has laid off 10 newsroom staffers, according to reports in The New York Post and the blog. Among those pink-slipped were veteran political reporter Frank Lombardi, City Hall scribe Kate Lucadamo, photog John Roca and 43-year News veteran Bob Kappstatter, the Deputy Police Bureau Chief.

The News would not confirm the staff shake-up, which comes on the heels of the October 14 departure of  managing editor Stuart Marques. No doubt, Joseph Medill Patterson, who founded the Daily News in 1919, is turning over in his grave.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

FCC Seeks More Transparency in Broadcast Political Ads

Logo of the United States Federal Communicatio...Image via WikipediaAdvertising Age reports that FCC commissioners last week stopped thinking about Janet Jackson's bare breast long enough to approve a measure that would require broadcasters of political ads to post online data including the names of the candidates supported in the ads, the cost, time and placement of the commericals and the name of the party requesting the ads and their reason for airing the ads.

The FCC proposal, aimed at increasing transparency regarding independent groups behind many political ads, will appear in the Federal Register in the coming weeks, where public comments will be solicited for 30 days, leading to the final version of the regulations. The National Association of Broadcasters has voiced concern about the proposed FCC rule and state broadcasters have gone further, urging the federal government to shoulder the compliance costs that they estimate would be $14 million annually after an initial $24 million outlay.

Television stations presently maintain the information in paper files that the FCC wants posted on the Internet.
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Third Circuit Court of Appeals Still Unmoved by Janet Jackson's Breasts

Seal, United States Court of Appeals for the T...Image via WikipediaThe United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit yesterday upheld its 2008 ruling that the Federal Communications Commission acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" when it fined CBS Corp. $550,000 for airing the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime wardrobe malfunction that caused Justin Timberlake to bare Janet Jackson's breast for an entire nine-sixteenths of a second (see "TUOL" post 9/17/09).

As reported by the Associated Press, the same 3rd Circuit panel that backed CBS in 2008 again found the FCC improperly penalized CBS in CBS Corp. et al v. FCC (Case No. 06-3575) in a majority opinion written by Judge Marjorie Rendell that responded to a Petition for Review of FCC Orders Nos. 06-19 & 06-68. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 ordered the appellate court to review its 2008 ruling based on a 2009 case involving Fox Television in which the High Court said the utterance of a single expletive on live TV could warrant an FCC fine.

Still, the 3rd Circuit was unwilling to support the actions of the FCC--much as the bustier of the now 45-year-old Jackson was unable to support her nipple-shielded breast.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Judge Irked Over Chi-Trib Ch. 11 Plans; Threatens to Name Bankruptcy Trustee

The Gothic Revival Tribune Tower in ChicagoImage via WikipediaIn his 126-page decision yesterday in  In re Tribune Co. (Case No. 08-bk-13141), a frustrated U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware Judge Kevin J. Carey threatened to place the Tribune Co in bankruptcy and appoint a Trustee, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

Judge Carey, who has presided over the nation's second-largest newspaper publisher's bankruptcy proceeding since the Tribune Co. filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2008 (see related "TUOL" posts 3/29/10, 8/24/09), rejected rival re-organization plans submitted by JP Morgan Chase & Co. and  the Aurelius Capital Management LP hedge fund. Judge Carey criticized the former's plan for its over-broad release provisions and attacked the latter plan's treatment of senior lenders and release of non-debtor guarantors, according to the Bloomberg News account.

The multimedia Tribune Co. is valued at roughly $6.75 billion, but has debts exceeding $13 billion, according to court documents. Financier and former Tribune Co. owner Samuel Zelle oversaw the $13 billion leveraged buyout of the company in 2007.

Judge Carey has scheduled a status hearing for November 22.

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