Archive for the ‘Internet Free Speech’ Category


WikiLeaks is under attack from powerful government and corporate officials and entities. The attacks are an assault not only on WikiLeaks, but on freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of the Internet.

Of greatest concern are the efforts to deny WikiLeaks access to the Internet and to financial services. We do not know of publicly available evidence that these efforts — which include reported denial of service attacks on WikiLeaks websites from unknown sources, terminated service agreements from companies like Amazon and PayPal, and shuttered bank accounts around the world — have been coordinated by the U.S. government, though many suspect this to be the case. Public Citizen has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests that we hope will reveal more about the government’s response.

What we do know is that the actions of powerful corporations to sever commercial relations with WikiLeaks occur in the shadow of what major media outlets have called a government declaration of war against WikiLeaks. Amazon reportedly decided to stop providing computing services to WikiLeaks after contact from the office of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). PayPal says it cut service to WikiLeaks in response to statements from the U.S. State Department.

Whether or not coordinated, Public Citizen condemns the unconstrained and unaccountable actions by corporations and the government to deny a disfavored website, nongovernmental organization or journalist enterprise access to the Internet and financial services. (more…)

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A meager $293? That’s the average weekly unemployment check collected by the 15 million Americans looking for work right now. Or $293 million? That’s what outside groups funded primarily by corporations and the very wealthy spent on the 2010 elections.

$75 billion? That’s the windfall coming to people who are already rich if the Bush tax cuts are extended. $145 billion? That’s the record amount Wall Street is paying in bonuses this year.

Trillions? In the wake of the financial crisis, that’s what We, the People provided in bailouts, loans and other supports to save Big Business from its own greed and irresponsibility.

At Public Citizen, our mission is to counteract the policies that cause numbers like these. We can defeat corporate power. But we need your help.

Please contribute $10, $20, $35 or whatever you can today.

Contribute $100 or more and get a free DVD from a selection of popular progressive films!

Corporations just elected their dream Congress. It’s going to take all of us doing everything we can, together, to prevent Congress from rolling back our health and safety protections and showering gifts on their corporate patrons—and to win new public interest initiatives.

Public Citizen will be leading the fight against corporate power in the new Congress, a Congress that will be less critical of corporate America’s agenda than any we’ve ever seen.

The critical first step is making sure we can hit the ground running when Congress returns to Washington in January. That’s why I’m writing now to ask for your help to raise $150,000 by the end of 2010.

Your contribution of $10, $20, $35 or whatever you can afford will be put to work immediately building on our important achievements in 2010 and growing our movement against runaway corporate power.

For four decades, Public Citizen members have stood together to face down corporate power.

I need you to stand with me today.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.

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Most people outside the software industry probably assume that when they pay money in exchange for a package of software, they have just purchased that software. In Vernor v. Autodesk, the Ninth Circuit today cast that assumption into doubt. The court held that Timothy Vernor, who purchased authentic, second-hand copies of software at garage and office sales to sell on eBay, did not own that software and thus had no right to resell it.

Public Citizen represented Vernor in his case against software-publisher Autodesk, which claimed that reselling the software on eBay was copyright infringement. The district court agreed with Vernor and rejected Autodesk’s copyright argument, holding that Vernor had a right to resell the software under copyright’s first-sale doctrine. The first-sale doctrine holds that the “owner of a particular copy” of a copyrighted work has the right to resell that work without permission of the copyright owner. The doctrine dates from a 1908 Supreme Court decision in which the Court held that a book publisher could (more…)

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A New Jersey man who was left legally blind after supposedly botched lasik eye surgery decided to criticize his surgeons online to inform others of his dissatisfying experience. He ran into more trouble than he anticipated, though, after sticking the surgeons’ names in the domain name.

The surgeons, Herbert Nevyas and Anita Nevyas-Wallace, who have offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, sued the patient for trademark violation. Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy, who is representing the patient in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, says that argument doesn’t fly.

“The domain names in question do not violate the Nevyases’ rights under trademark laws, and their efforts to obtain the names constitute reverse domain name hijacking,” he said. “The Nevyases’ attempts to close the website stifle [the patient’s] free speech rights.”

Find out why.

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A daily look at news from the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal that caught our eye:


Maker of Botox Settles Inquiry by Natasha Singer (NYT)

Study Sees Heart Risk in Meridia Diet Pill  (NYT)

Botox maker settles case for $600 million (WP)

Botox Allegations Settled with U.S. for $600 Million (WJS)

Financial Reform

The Real Say on Pay [NYT]

Financial Crisis Panel Lends Sympathetic Ear to Lehman’s Ex-Chief by Sewal Chan (NYT)

Stimulus Averted Depression, Romer Says (NYT)

Bernanke: Regulators fell short (WP)

Warren fuels speculation by dropping class (WP)

Departing Obama adviser urges more stimulus (WP)

U.S. auto sales hit a deep ditch (WP)

Lehman was forced into bankruptcy by regulators, former CEO testifies (WP)

SEC Probes Canceled Trades (WSJ)

Agency Targets Stoppages Due to Off-Exchange Trades (WSJ)

Clashing Testimony Over Lehman Bankruptcy (WSJ)

Toxic Debt Returns to Fashion  (WSJ)


FCC Seeks More Input on Wireless Internet Rules (NYT)


Maryland Sen. Currie indicted on charges of bribery (WP)

The FEC answers a nagging question — sort of (WP)

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The mysterious disappearance of the Boycott BP fan page from Facebook last night was, apparently, a mistake caused by Facebook’s automated system, or so Facebook says today. Here’s what Facebook told us when we asked why the Boycott BP page was taken down:

Thanks for reaching out to Facebook. The admin profile of the Boycott BP Page was disabled by our automated systems therefore removing all the content that had been created by the profile. After a manual review we determined the profile was removed in error and it has now been restored along with the Page.

TechCrunch has more. But there’s still a lot of room for explanation on Facebook’s part.

In response to Facebook’s decision to remove the Boycott BP page, Public Citizen attorney Greg Beck issued the following statement:

“Late Monday, Facebook shut down the Boycott BP fan page, effectively locking out the page’s more than 700,000 members. After a backlash by users, Facebook reinstated the site this morning. Facebook has not said whether a complaint by BP prompted its decision to terminate the Boycott BP page. Regardless, Facebook’s decision to delete the page without warning or explanation was irresponsible.

Facebook and other social websites have become the public squares of the Internet – places where citizens can congregate as a community to share their opinions and voice their grievances. Facebook’s ownership of this democratic forum carries great responsibility. At the very least, Facebook should provide warning and a reasoned explanation before destroying a large and active community.

It is not clear whether BP is behind the page’s temporary removal. Facebook says the site was removed when the company’s “automated systems” disabled the site owner’s profile, and restored after a manual review “determined the profile was removed in error.” But the company has not explained the cause of the removal or said whether a complaint by BP triggered the process. Companies often complain to Facebook about fan pages that include their names, claiming that viewers will be confused about whether the company sponsors the site. Here, nobody could be confused into believing that a page named “Boycott BP” is run by BP itself. People have a right to criticize a company by name, and BP has no right to stop it.

Note: Public Citizen’s call for a BP boycott can be found at www.BeyondBP.org.”

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Sophists have long known that when you cannot defeat a proposal based on merit, then resort to groundless – or even false – accusations to create hysteria and confusion over the proposal.

Those opposed to the recent health care reform legislation did exactly that when they invented the myth that the legislation would create the infamous “death panels” – government health officials ready and eager to pull the plug on granny when she gets too old. It was nonsense, of course. There was nothing in the legislation that would create death panels. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to spread hysteria and confusion about the legislation in order to defeat it.

We are now hearing some of the same sophistry from opponents of the DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175), legislation in response to the Citizens United decision, in which the Court ruled that corporations may make unlimited expenditures in elections. The DISCLOSE Act is a good but modest bill designed to open the books on who is paying for these unlimited independent expenditure campaign ads. (more…)

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From a Public Citizen press release:

With thousands of people across the country uniting against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Public Citizen today launches the Web site CitizensUnitedAgainstCitizensUnited.org.

There’s reason to suspect that the organization that brought the Supreme Court case – Citizens United – is unhappy about the massive public outrage over the decision -and that it doesn’t want anyone pointing out the reality that citizens are uniting against Citizens United.

Citizens United Against Citizens United was originally a Facebook group created by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The idea was to use Facebook to organize people opposed to the Citizens United decision, which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited funds to influence federal elections.

But Citizens United sent a threatening letter (more…)

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David Kushner with Mother Jones takes a fascinating look behind the whistleblower Web site Wikileaks.org, the site everyone is talking about this week after it published the 2007 U.S. military video of a helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed 12 people, including two staffers for Reuters news service. Though Wikileaks has its critics — people who think the site’s approach of publishing leaked materials lacks the integrity of journalism’s filtering process — it undoubtedly has had an impact in shining a light on government and corporate abuses around the world. From Mother Jones:

Since its launch in December, 2006, WikiLeaks has posted more than 1.2 million documents totaling more than 10 million pages. It has published the operating manuals from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, NATO’s secret plan for the Afghan war, and inventories of US military materiel in Iraq and Afghanistan. In September 2007, a few weeks before Assange’s alleged close call in Nairobi, it posted a document exposing corruption in the highest levels of the Kenyan government. Assange claims that the site receives as many as 10,000 new documents daily.

The New York Times also had a piece on Wikileaks’ new found fame (remember the days when we would have expected newspapers like the NYT to be the ones uncovering these types of videos?):

Reuters had tried for two and a half years through the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the Iraq video, to no avail. WikiLeaks, as always, refuses to say how it obtained the video, and credits only “our courageous source.”

Both the NYT and MoJo pieces cite a 2008 case where a California judge tried to shut Wikileaks down after it published documents from a Swiss bank that may or may not have shown the bank was involved in money laundering. Public Citizen and other First Amendment organizations successfully intervened in that case, arguing that it was an example of improper prior restraint.

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Citizens United, fresh from its Supreme Court victory giving corporations the right to bankroll election campaigns, has sent a trademark demand letter to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, complaining that a Facebook page entitled “Citizens United Against Citizens United” infringes its trademark.  Apparently, Citizens United is worried that members of the public might come to the page and think that the organization “Citizens United” is attacking Citizens United, the landmark Supreme Court decision that it won.

Although we haven’t seen this issue litigated in the context of Facebook, Citizens United’s demand flies in the face of the many decisions holding that an Internet gripe site (or fan site) may use the trademark of the subject of the discussion as its domain name. Under Lamparello v. Falwell, 420 F.3d 309 (4th Cir. 2005), that’s even the rule in the Fourth Circuit, where Citizens United is located.  How can they possibly hope to win a case like that?

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s argument would seem to be even stronger, because it is using “Citizens United” in its descriptive sense, and not as a mark. It seems doubtful that Citizens United the conservative group can prevent a group of citizens who are united to support or oppose a particular proposition from referring to their effort as Citizens United For X or  Citizens United Against Y. (Otherwise, many groups that would have to change their names). It is especially hard to understand how any confusion about source could be expected to result from labeling a campaign “Citizens United Against Citizens United.”

Interestingly, Citizens United asks Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to destroy all documents bearing the Citizens United trademark.  If that demand were extended to the Supreme Court, could it succeed in wiping the Citizens United decision off the books?

Paul Alan Levy is a Public Citizen attorney. Cross-posted at Consumer Law & Policy Blog.

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