Congressional subcommittee holds hearing on federal anti-SLAPP bill

While the Democratic sit-in protesting gun control garnered the nation’s attention this week, a less publicized piece of legislation gained traction in the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. The Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice heard testimony Wednesday on the SPEAK FREE Act (H.R. 2304), a federal anti-SLAPP bill. The bill extends speech protections for defendants subject to SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) to federal court and to states without anti-SLAPP laws.

Currently, 28 states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Guam have enacted anti-SLAPP statutes with varying degrees of protection. SLAPPs are brought against those exercising their speech rights under the First Amendment and on matters of public concern. Often the goal of SLAPPs is to silence critics by subjecting them to costly and burdensome litigation. Anti-SLAPP laws grant defendants of these suits mechanisms in which to quickly dismiss claims, stay discovery, and receive attorney’s fees. These laws deter litigants from filing speech-chilling lawsuits.

The SPEAK FREE Act, introduced by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tx) in May 2015, permits anti-SLAPP protections to apply in federal court and in states lacking an anti-SLAPP law.

Wednesday’s hearing (video here) included testimony from Bruce D. Brown, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Aaron Schur, Senior Director of Litigation at Yelp, Inc.; Laura Prather, Partner at Haynes and Boone, LLP, and board member of the Public Participation Project; and Alexander Reinert, Professor of Law at Cardozo School of Law.

For more on the hearing, visit the Reporters Committee’s website here.

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The soft side of the Internet: #DancingMan receives outpouring of support after photo posted on message board

The Internet can be a harsh place. Bloggers pick apart celebrities; trolls tweet rude comments; and cyberbullies run rampant all too often. But the Internet does have a soft side.

When I tell friends and family I want to defend online civil liberties as an attorney they point to these examples of the bleak Internet environment. I counter by explaining how a robust Internet allows for unfettered expression, self-realization, and the sharing of ideas among diverse communities. I also emphasize how the Internet is a place where the public can support and encourage others. A recent story reminded me why I value the Internet as an open marketplace. Although this is merely an anecdote, it demonstrates how the Internet can inspire people to be themselves:

A recent patron of a London nightclub took a picture of a man dancing and posted it to a message board with the caption, “Spotted this specimen trying to dance the other week. He stopped when he saw us laughing.”

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Cassandra Fairbanks,  a member of an Los Angeles group for women, tweeted the post on Twitter and tried to identify the man using #FindDancingMan. Fairbanks then extended an invitation to him from her woman’s group.
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Eventually the group located Sean (the name of the Dancing Man), and he accepted their offer. In the meantime, celebrities such as Pharrell Williams, Ellie Goulding, Moby, and Susan Sarandon showed their support for Sean. They were also invited to the party.

Read more about this heart-warming story of the #Dancing Man from the Daily Mail and Time.

UPDATE (May 27, 2015): Promises fulfilled as #DancingMan enjoys numerous events.

Tracking fame through the lens of a search engine

In my latest post for the Interdisciplinary Internet Institute, I delve into one aspect of how Google has implemented the Court of Justice of the European Union’s ruling in the Google Spain case. The way Google’s algorithm adds or does not add a disclaimer to certain search results gives you a glimpse into if Google thinks you are “famous.” As my post suggests, if you Google your name on a Google website in the EU (Google.es, for example), whether a disclaimer appears at the bottom of the results will tell if you the search giant believes you are public figure. Disclaimer = not famous. No disclaimer = famous.

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Net neutrality piece featured on The Interdisciplinary Internet Institute

“Net neutrality” has been one of the buzz phrases of 2014 as the FCC reviews regulations that could potentially change the way the Internet functions. Recently, President Barack Obama spoke in support of net neutrality. The Interdisciplinary Internet Institute published a brief piece I wrote discussing the issue and Obama’s latest statements.

Stay tuned for future updates on the issue.