European privacy notions wash ashore in U.S.

By ERIC P. ROBINSON / European countries have long had different notions of privacy than we do in the United States, where privacy has weaker protection than free speech. But several recent developments are leading European privacy norms to have impact in the United States.

Copyright verdict’s lesson: Use online photos with care

BY ERIC P. ROBINSON / In a case that offers a reminder that material found online cannot simply be reused without regard to copyright considerations, a federal jury in Manhattan awarded a photographer $1.2 million in November against a news agency that, without the photographer’s permission, distributed photos he had posted to Twitter. American copyright law provides that a creative work is protected by copyright the moment it is created, and is owned by either its creator or, if the item created was a “work for hire,” the creator’s employer. This copyright protection persists even if the creator makes the work available on the Internet, and even if it can be easily downloaded and copied. Downloading, copying and reusing a work found on the Internet without the owner’s permission is infringement, unless the copying or reuse is covered by the “fair use” principle extended to uses such as news and education, as long as the use is not overly extensive and does not substantially harm the potential commercial market for the work.

Appeals Court likes “likes,” says they’re speech

BY ERIC P. ROBINSON / The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “liking” something on Facebook is speech protected by the First Amendment, reversing a lower court opinion dismissing a suit brought by former employees of a sheriff’s office who lost their job after they “liked” the Facebook page of opponent of their boss in his re-election bid.

Iowa’s media/non-media distinction in libel law could be trouble for bloggers

In mid-January, the Iowa Supreme Court decided to maintain the distinction in Iowa state law between “media” and “non-media” defendants in defamation cases, with the latter easier to sue for some types of libel. In Bierman v. Weier, the court said the distinction is “a well-established component of Iowa’s defamation law.” The decision raises the question of whether bloggers would get the greater protection of media companies or the lesser protection of non-media defendants.

Courtroom devices get different state treatments

While almost all state trial courts allow some level of still and video camera coverage of court proceedings, the rules on usage of modern communications devices and techniques – blogging, tweeting, texting and emailing using cellphones, tablets and other devices – are a wild patchwork of policies which vary from state to state, courthouse to courthouse, and often even courtroom to courtroom. An example of this is in two wildly diverging policies adopted in late 2012 in Kansas and Illinois’ Cook County.

Arkansas Case Shows Dilemma of Juries and Social Media

The Arkansas Supreme Court has reversed a murder conviction — and death sentence — in a case where one juror tweeted during trial and another fell asleep. Both of these problems, the court said, constituted juror misconduct requiring reversal and a new trial. Erickson Dimas-Martinez v. State, 2011 Ark. 515 (Dec. 8, 2011).

While the court said the dozing juror alone required reversal of the conviction and sentence, the court added that the second juror’s tweets also required a reversal.