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#What the HashTag? Legal TweetChat for Web Journalists March 26, 2010

Posted by lborodkin in : Uncategorized , trackback

Cory Doctorow predicted that printed newspapers will become like opera, the province of “rich weirdos.” Despite this, journalism is alive and well in the new media era, and living in Cyberspace.

To help such online journalists, I participated in a Legal Issues Panel on Episode 7 of WJChat through TweetChat with some of the legal leaders in new media journalism. The panel was assembled by Robert Hernandez (@webjournalist), who teaches a course in Online Journalism at USC’s Annenberg School.

My fellow panelists were Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (@EFF), David Ardia and Kimberly Isbell of Harvard’s Citizen Media Law Project (@CitMediaLaw) at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Jack Lerner (@JackLerner) of USC’s Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic.

Here is the transcript of WJChat Episode 7. A more coherent digest of the panel discussion is here.

If the formatting looks wonky, that’s because it is. My Columbia Law Review editors would have had a minor heart attack back in the day where we debated such fine points as whether to end possessive plurals with an ” s’ ” or an ” s’s. ” (For grammar geeks, it was decided that official Columbia Law Review style that year was to use the full ” s’s ” because the then-Editor-in-Chief thought the ” s’s ” conveyed plural better than a “lonely single apostrophe hanging out by itself.”)

As a matter of pure Blue Book style, I agree. But I don’t get a credit for my Note on the Columbia Law Review website, since I signed my copyright away. You can read it if you can afford a Westlaw or Lexis subscription.

Perhaps one day we’ll follow @BlueBook on Twitter. Properly, it would be @AUniformSystemofCitation, but that’s over the character length. In today’s Twitterverse, we wouldn’t use an extra character on subtleties such as an extra “s” or whether two spaces follow a period. Life is short, right? Maybe it’s not pretty, but we’d claim attribution for what we write.

That’s a fair trade-off, I think.

But back to the show.

The panel discussed ethical, legal and practical problems of online news gathering and reporting. We focused on issues unique to web journalism – shield laws, web commenting, quotations, expectations of privacy, Creative Commons licenses, retractions, and DMCA agents. At times, there was a division between normative law and empirical law — that is, the split in what we believe doctrines such as the Fair Use defense in copyright may or should allow, and practical rules of thumb easy enough for your average Joe or Jill citizen journalist to stay out of trouble.

Here are some useful resources for online journalists that came out of the discussion:

EFF’s Legal Guide for Bloggers
The Online Media Legal Network
PACER.gov and RecaptheLaw for federal cases
(To this, I add FindaCase.com.)
flickr.com for Creative Commons-licensed photos
archive.org for web history
http://www.copyright.gov/onlinesp/agent.pdf to register a DMCA agent
EFF’s guide to Section 230 Protection
EFF’s Bloggers as Journalists

My final tip? Be true to yourself, be accurate, and check your sources.

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