On April 6, 2017, Cyberlaw Clinic students attended oral argument in a First Circuit copyright appeal involving a curious set of facts and legal issues. The case pitted Richard Goren, a Massachusetts attorney, against Xcentric Ventures, LLC, the owner of an online consumer review website known as the Ripoff Report. Goren was upset by a review of his services posted on Ripoff Report by Christian DuPont, the defendant in a prior case where Goren had represented the plaintiff. Goren initially sued Dupont in Massachusetts state court, alleging that Dupont’s review was defamatory. Dupont failed to appear, and thus defaulted. After obtaining a default judgment, Goren requested that Xcentric remove the posting. Xcentric refused, citing the Ripoff Report’s strict “no removal policy.”
Join Mason Kortz from the Cyberlaw Clinic along with an all-star roster of speakers on April 1, 2017, at Harvard Law School about technology and law enforcement — “Over-Policed and Under Protected: Technology, Law Enforcement and Minorities.” Sponsored by our friends at the Harvard Human Rights Journal, the panelists will address the extent to which use of technology in law enforcement exacerbates problems faced by minority groups in the United States. A reception will follow. Panelists include Sahar F. Aziz of Texas A&M School of Law and Harlan Yu of Upturn, with moderator Elana Fogel from the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services.
In areas ranging from the so-called “right to be forgotten” to intellectual property to defamation, there is an ongoing debate over how legitimate national laws and preferences should be applied and enforced online in the content takedown context. At the core of this dispute is whether public international law doctrines of territoriality extend to digital spaces, or whether different presumptions should govern online.
On February 21, 2017, the Cyberlaw Clinic filed an amicus brief on behalf of several trusts and estates law scholars and practitioners in Ajemian v. Yahoo!, Inc., Mass. Supreme Judicial Court No. SJC-11917. The brief supports the plaintiffs-appellants in the case. The Ajemian case arises out of a dispute between Yahoo and the family of John Ajemian, who died unexpectedly in 2006. After Mr. Ajemian’s death, the administrators of his estate contacted Yahoo about gaining access to his email account. Yahoo refused, claiming that the Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq., prevented it from doing so.
On January 24, 2017, the Cyberlaw Clinic filed an amicus brief (pdf) on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in the case, Steinmetz v. Coyle & Caron Inc., First Circuit No. 16-1996. The brief supports defendant-appellee in the case, and the Court granted leave to file the brief this week (over the objections of plaintiff-appellant). RCFP was joined on the brief by The Associated Press, Gannett Co., Inc., the New England First Amendment Coalition, and the New England Newspaper & Press Association, Inc. RCFP has summarized the brief on its website.
Efforts to create more space for free expression in Africa have been strengthened by the Kenyan Judiciary. In the case of Jacqueline Okuta & Anor vs. AG & Others, the High Court of Kenya on 6 of February 2017 annulled section 194 of the Penal Code that provides for the offence of criminal defamation. This decision is significant in safeguarding the fundamental rights of Kenyans, particularly in light of the forthcoming general elections. It curtails the misuse of criminal law provisions by political figures to curtail speech they consider unfavorable. Journalists especially have been victims of criminal defamation sanctions for exposing corruption and unlawful activities of public officials.
We are excited to kick off the spring 2017 semester at Harvard Law School this week with a brand new member of the Cyberlaw Clinic teaching team, as Mason Kortz joins us as a Clinical Fellow. Mason comes to the Clinic after clerking in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts and working as a legal fellow with our friends at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (as part of ACLUM’s Technology for Liberty Project). Mason will be involved in a wide variety of projects at the Clinic, addressing issues that include online speech, privacy, and the use of data products to advance social justice. Mason attended Harvard Law School, where he spent a semester as a student in the Cyberlaw Clinic. Prior to law school, he worked as a data manager for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. We are thrilled to welcome Mason back into the Clinic fold and look forward to getting him fully immersed in our practice and teaching activities over the coming months. Welcome, Mason!
In December, the United States Copyright Office released a report on software-enabled consumer products. Prepared pursuant to a request from Senate Judiciary Committee members Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the report clarifies how existing copyright law applies to everyday consumer items, from cameras to pickup trucks, that are sold pre-loaded with software essential to their operation. Copyright is not the only area of law implicated by now-ubiquitous software, and simultaneous work is being undertaken by the FTC, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Commerce.
This week, PBS‘s “Independent Lens” is airing a remarkable documentary entitled Containment. Produced by Redacted Pictures and directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss (working with co-producer and editor Chyld King), the film examines the challenges associated with disposal and storage of the byproducts of nuclear energy production and with conveying risk across generations. We in the Cyberlaw Clinic had the great pleasure of providing legal support to the the team behind Containment during the film’s production.
On 8 November 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights handed down a much-anticipated judgment on the right of access to information. While the Court was clearer and firmer than it had ever been before on the status of the right to access information as part of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention, it stopped short of acknowledging access to information as a fully-fledged right under the provision.