Guest Repost: 4th Cir: Liking on Facebook is Protected First Amendment Activity

As a follow-up on a topic covered at the 2013 Law + Informatics Symposium, Workplace Prof Blog, A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network posted the following article. Given its relation to our symposium, the author kindly agreed to let us re-post it here:

ComputerSome of you may recall that we previously blogged on a case from Virginia in August of last year concerning whether, in a public sector First Amendment  case involving political activities, liking someone or something on Facebook counted as protected First Amendment speech.  I said it most certainly did in the ABA Journal at the time, even though the district judge said it certainly did not.

Secunda [The earlier post explained that the ABA Journal quoted “Paul Secunda (Marquette) as “speechless” that Judge Raymond A. Jackson of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled, in Bland v. Robertsy, that a public employee “liking” something or someone on Facebook is not protected First Amendment expression.  The article is ‘Like’ Is Unliked: Clicking on a Facebook Item Is Not Free Speech, Judge Rules.”  Ed.]

Yesterday, the Fourth Circuit made the world right again by finding that liking a candidate’s campaign page on Facebook was in fact protected First Amendment speech.

Here is the link to the 4th Circuit’s decision (2-1) in Bland v. RobertsAnd here is the pertinent language from the Court’s opinion:

On the most basic level, clicking on the “like” button literally causes to be published the statement that the User “likes” something, which is itself a substantive statement. In the context of a political campaign’s Facebook page, the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable. That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he likes the page instead of typing the same message with several individual key strokes is of no constitutional significance.

Friend of the blog, Bill Herbert, has written on these First Amendment issues involving social networking by public employees in: Can’t Escape from the Memory:  Social Media and Public Sector Labor Law.  The article has now been published in North Kentucky Law Review as part of the  Law + Informatics Symposium on Labor and Employment Issues.  A shout out to Jon Garon, Director of the Law + Informatics Institute at NKU for organizing this very worthwhile event.



One year later – DRM-free ebooks hugely positive for Tor

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue discussed the decision last year by Tor Books UK and US to drop copy protection. It just released a statement regarding the effect of the DRM-free ebooks after one year.

His column deftly discusses the tension between consumers who want the inconvenience of encryption eliminated and concerns that DRM targets lawful consumers far more than those acquiring illegally distributed copies. Although he does not address the plethora of DRM-free versions on bit torrent sites, he notes that the changes to DRM for commercial products might affect the rate of piracy, but not the existence of piracy.

The Tor announcement highlighted a few other features of their strategy. First, the strategy was about their authors and the goals of the authors to engage more effectively with their readers. Secondly, as a science fiction imprint, their readership is among the most capable of getting DRM-free copies, so the publisher needs to make the consumer happy more than it needs to protect itself from the consumer. And finally, the decision to eliminate DRM does not mean that the works are not for-profit, on-sale copies. This statement captures many of Tor’s concerns:

We had discussions with our authors before we made the move and we considered very carefully the two key concerns for any publisher when stripping out the DRM from ebooks: copyright protection and territoriality of sales. Protecting our author’s intellectual copyright will always be of a key concern to us and we have very stringent anti-piracy controls in place. But DRM-protected titles are still subject to piracy, and we believe a great majority of readers are just as against piracy as publishers are, understanding that piracy impacts on an author’s ability to earn an income from their creative work. As it is, we’ve seen no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year.

Pogue suggests but does not state outright that DRM is an ineffective strategy for reducing piracy. But he is very explicit that the point of an anti-piracy policy is to increase sales and revenue. DRM-free does not mean without cost. iTunes sells its music even though it dropped DRM. He also points out that his own books have had fared similarly in the market.

If book consumers thought that everyone in the household could easily read the same book (in the manner that a family can share a physical book), it might be more willing to spend money to own the ebook. For works that have no physical cost, the increase in unauthorized copies is not the right metric. The right question is whether more customers will purchase the work. If more copies are sold, the work is more successful, even if more copies are also pirated.

Pogue makes another strong point that the ease of the transaction directly impacts sales. “Friction also matters. That’s why Apple and Amazon have had such success with the single click-to-buy button. To avoid piracy, it’s not enough to offer people a good product at a fair price. You also have to make buying as effortless as possible.” High transaction costs are reasonable only for expensive, infrequent purchases. Weight is a normal force on friction; only weighty purchases should have high friction.

Finally, Pogue addresses the pricing of ebooks. Frankly, he is more generous to the publishers than I would be on this issue by acknowledging the costs associated with “author advance, editing, indexing, design, promotion, and so on” but like the music industry, the investments are declining. The public is likely to value the fair price point of an ebook as a percentage of its physical counterpart. If the physical copy has a secondary market in the used bookstore, then the loss of resale also needs to be factored in for the consumer. Otherwise the consumer is only paying for the convenience of instant access, and if the instant access is undermined by cludgy DRM, there is no value to be had.

Tor heard this from its constituents:

But the most heartening reaction for us was from the readers and authors who were thrilled that we’d listened and actually done something about a key issue that was so close to their hearts. They almost broke Twitter and facebook with their enthusiastic responses. Gary Gibson, author of The Thousand Emperors tweeted: “Best news I’ve heard all day.” Jay Kristoff, author of Stormdancer, called it “a visionary and dramatic step . . . a victory for consumers, and a red-letter day in the history of publishing.”

Tor never says it has become more profitable, but the company does relish the role it is taking in leading the publishing industry towards a more consumer-friendly business model.

The move has been a hugely positive one for us, it’s helped establish Tor and Tor UK as an imprint that listens to its readers and authors when they approach us with a mutual concern—and for that we’ve gained an amazing amount of support and loyalty from the community. And a year on we’re still pleased that we took this step with the imprint and continue to publish all of Tor UK’s titles DRM-free.

So the lesson from Tor is simple – for low-cost impulse purchases DRM doesn’t add value. High quality, fairly priced, and easy to access works will continue to attract a growing market. These are the points of emphasis and differentiation for the marketplace. DRM may be a legal solution, but it is not a sound business strategy.

Cyber Defense Strategies and Responsibilities for Industry Call for Papers Now Open

The Northern Kentucky Law Review and Salmon P. Chase College of Law seek submissions for the third annual Law + Informatics Symposium on February 27-28, 2014.

2014 Law + Informatics Symposium on

Cyber Defense Strategies and Responsibilities for Industry

 The focus of the conference is to provide an interdisciplinary review of issues involving business and industry responses to cyber threats from foreign governments, terrorists, and corporate espionage. The symposium will emphasize the role of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and industries providing critical infrastructure.

The symposium is an opportunity for academics, practitioners, consultants, and students to exchange ideas and explore emerging issues cybersecurity and informatics law as it applies to corporate strategies and the obligations of business leaders. Interdisciplinary presentations are encouraged. Authors and presenters are invited to submit proposals on topics relating to the theme, such as the following:

Cyber Warfare

  • Rules of Engagement
  • Offensive and defensive approaches
  • Responses to state actors
  • Engagement of non-state actors
  • Distinguishing corporate espionage from national defense
  • Proportionality and critical infrastructure
  • Cyber diplomacy
  • Cold War footing and concerns of human rights implications

Front Lines for Industry

  • Role of regulators such as FERC
  • Legacy systems and modern threats
  • NIST guidelines
  • NIST Cybersecurity Framework
  • Engaging Dept. of Homeland Security
  • Implications on various industries (electric power,  telecommunications and transportation systems, chemical facilities)
  • Health and safety issues
Global Perspectives

  • Concepts of cyber engagement in Europe
  • Perception of Internet and social media as threat to national soverignty
  • Rules of engagement outside U.S. and NATO
  • Implications for privacy and human rights
  • Stuxnet, Duqu, Gauss, Mahdi, Flame, Wiper, and Shamoon
  • Cyber engagement in lieu of kinetic attacks or as a component of kinetic engagement


Corporate Governance

  • Confidentiality and disclosure obligations
  • Responsibilities of the board of directors
  • Staffing, structures and responses
  • Data protection & obligations regarding data breaches
  • Corporate duty to stop phishing and other attacks for non-critical industries
  • Investment and threat assessment
  • Litigation and third party liability


Other Issues

  • Executive orders and legislative process
  • Lawyer responsibility in the face of potential threats
  • Practical implications of government notices
  • Perspective on the true nature of the threat

Submissions & Important Dates: 

  • Please submit materials to
  • Submission Deadline for Abstracts: September 1, 2013
  • Submission Deadline for First Draft of Manuscripts: January 1, 2014
  • Submission Deadline for Completed Articles: February 1, 2014
  • Symposium Date: February 27-28, 2014

Law Review Published Article:  The Northern Kentucky Law Review will review, edit and publish papers from the symposium in the 2014 spring symposium issue.  Papers are invited from scholars and practitioners across all disciplines related to the program. Please submit a title and abstract (of 500-100 words) or draft paper for works in progress. Abstracts or drafts should be submitted by September 1, 2013. Submissions may be accepted on a rolling basis after that time until all speaking positions are filled.

Presentations (without publication) based on Abstracts:  For speakers interested in presenting without submitting a publishable article, please submit an abstract of the proposed presentation. Abstracts should be submitted by September 1, 2013. Submissions may be accepted on a rolling basis after that time until all speaking positions are filled.

Publication of Corporate Handbook on Cyber Defense: The Law + Informatics Institute may edit and publish a handbook for corporate counsel related to the topics addressed at the symposium. Scholars and practitioners interested in authoring book chapters are invited to submit their interest by September 1, 2013 which may be in addition to (or as an adaptation of) a submitted abstract for The Northern Kentucky Law Review. Submissions may be accepted on a rolling basis after that time until all chapter topics are filled.

About the Law and Informatics Institute:  The Law + Informatics Institute at Chase College of Law provides a critical interdisciplinary approach to the study, research, scholarship, and practical application of informatics, focusing on the regulation and utilization of information – including its creation, acquisition, aggregation, security, manipulation and exploitation – in the fields of intellectual property law, privacy law, evidence (regulating government and the police), business law, and international law.

Through courses, symposia, publications and workshops, the Law + Informatics Institute encourages thoughtful public discourse on the regulation and use of information systems, business innovation, and the development of best business practices regarding the exploitation and effectiveness of the information and data systems in business, health care, media, and entertainment, and the public sector.

For More Information Please Contact:

  • Professor Jon M. Garon, symposium faculty sponsor and book editor: or 859.572.5815
  • Lindsey Jaeger, executive director: or 859.572.7853
  • Aaren Meehan, symposium editor, or 859-912-1551

Journalism audience, revenue, and depth all in decline suggests Pew Center study

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism paints a dismal picture regarding the transformation of American news media. The Center describes “a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands” than any time in recent history. Among the findings:

  • Sports, weather and traffic now account on average for 40% of content
  • Newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put the industry down 30% since its peak in 2000
  • Some media outlets, such as Forbes magazine, use technology by a company called Narrative Science to produce content by way of algorithm
  • Media campaign reports were primarily megaphones, rather than investigative journalism

In response to the declines, the Center reports, “nearly a third of U.S. adults, 31%, have stopped turning to a news outlet because it no longer provided them with the news they were accustomed to getting.”

Pew InfographicThere is some financial restructuring of the industry as well. In most cases, however, the restructuring moves revenue away from news media and towards aggregators such as Google and Facebook. Economically this is another situation where the company providing the conduit for content receives the revenue rather than the individuals and companies providing the actual content. The other good news is the slight increase in Sunday newspaper subscriptions and the end to the decline in overall newspaper sales.

In total, however, the report makes clear that while there is more information than ever before, there is less in-depth news coverage.

In a report published last year, the Pew Center reported found that “for every $1 newspapers were gaining in digital ad revenue, they were losing $7 in print advertising” and the gap grew to $16 in print losses for every digital dollar gained by the end of the 2012. Some papers are returning to pay walls to offset the losses; others are accelerating their cost-cutting in print and reporting expenses to pay the gap.

While digital revenues continue to grow, the income is not fueling journalism. Instead, it pays for mobile devices, social media and search. While each of these has benefits, journalism has a uniquely important role in society – unfortunately that role will continue to shrink as budgets wane, reports become more superficial, audiences erode, budgets shrink in response – and the cycle goes inexorably downward.

iPad Newsstand provides some revenue to the publishers, but at a steep price to the Apple newsstand vendor. Zinio and Kindle are also out there.

Perhaps it is time to rethink what we pay for with our home entertainment dollars. Maybe the bundle of services will cover a few dozen fewer unwatched cable channels and put a few cents into the digital edition of the local paper. Certainly it is time to rethink media ownership and financing rules for the digital market.

Netflix Wins Congressional Protection to go Social in US under New Law

An amendment to the 1988, Video Privacy Protection Act provides videotape services the ability to allow their customers to opt in for video rental and viewing data. Under the new legislation, companies such as Netflix, Hulu, and Crackle will be able to let their users share what they have been watching through their social media services.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law this week.

netflix1Video companies will use the new law to encourage their users to post what they are watching to their friends and family – encouraging greater viewership on that platform. Netflix already provides this option on its European platform, but concerns over the reach of the Video Privacy Protection Act limited the company’s use of social media in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Hulu lost a claim in which it argued the Video Privacy Protection Act did not extend to online content suppliers. The California District Court hearing the case disagreed, stating “a plain reading of a statute that covers videotapes and “similar audio visual materials” is about the video content, not about how that content was delivered (e.g. via the Internet or a bricks-and-mortar store).” The decision to allow the class action against Hulu to proceed (and a settlement by Netflix in a similar situation) set the stage for legislative action.

The law was originally enacted in response to the disclosure of Supreme Court Nominee Robert Bork’s videotape records. The law extended similar protections for library records. (The American Library Association reports that 48 of the 50 states have such statutes.) In addition to the federal law, many states also have laws protecting rental and viewership records, so compliance at the state level may somewhat deter the roll-out of the automated “frictionless sharing” of viewership data.

At the heart of the privacy rules stand a constitutional assertion that free speech often starts with unmonitored access to information. The freedom to read divergent, controversial, or even antisocial and seditious materials is essential to develop an open, robust and unfettered political debate. To punish a person merely for accessing controversial content will ultimately stifle expression, creating a far greater evil than the content being discouraged.

Perhaps because this form of privacy is rooted in First Amendment protections, it was the one privacy rule in which U.S. residents had greater legal protections than their European counterparts.

The law provides consumers the ability to withdraw consent at any time. Nonetheless, expect to see a great many status updates about your acquaintances’ viewing habits by the end of the year. Opting out of those might not be as easy.

IP for Creative Upstarts papers available for conference on Nov. 9-10, 2012

Presented by Michigan State University College of Law

Intellectual Property, Information & Communications Law Program

Co-sponsored by

       NKU Chase College of Law, Law + Informatics Institute

Copyright Alliance

This conference considers how law and policy can nurture diverse creative industries—”Creative Upstarts”—in the U.S. and abroad. “Creative Upstarts” encompass a range of commercial enterprises from independent artists and producers in developed countries to emerging content industries such as Nigeria’s “Nollywood,” Jamaican dancehall, Brazilian tecnobrega music, and Chinese digital publishing. Their interests have been overlooked in recent debates on intellectual property and information policy. This conference seeks to remedy that gap. Read More


More Information:



Contact Information

Professor Sean Pager

Copyright Anti-circumvention provisions published; jailbreaking for phones okay but not tablets; access to DVDs for comment and criticism in education and documentary filmmaking increase

In 1998 Congress updated the copyright law with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act with hopes that it provided a forward-looking approach to the rapidly changing technologies affecting movies, music, television, publishing, the artists and all manner of creative endeavors. Among its two key provisions are the Section 512 take-down provisions[1] and the Section 1201 anti-circumvention provisions.

Section 1201(a)(1)(A) makes it a crime (and a tort) to “circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected” by copyright. Put another way, if a work protected by copyright is accessed through a digital lock, such as encryption or a digital authentication handshake, then the steps to get around that process violate sec. 1201. The law has some specific exemptions built in for library research, law enforcement, reverse engineering, and encryption research. But these exemptions are highly limited. As a result, Congress also called upon the Librarian of Congress, in consultation with the Register of Copyright to provide a review every three years to publish a list of additional exemptions.

The fifth such list has just been published: Section 1201 Rulemaking: Fifth Triennial Proceeding to Determine Exemptions to the Prohibition on Circumvention. A copy of the final rule is here.

To be successful, an applicant seeking an exemption had to establish by a preponderance of evidence on a factual record that  “(1) uses affected by the prohibition on circumvention are or are likely to be noninfringing; and (2) as a result of a technological measure controlling access to a copyrighted work, the prohibition is causing, or in the next three years is likely to cause, a substantial adverse impact on those uses.”

In most cases, the exemptions are modification of the petitioner’s actual request. Here is a summary of approved exemptions:

  1. Literary works distributed electronically – assistive technologies: Literary works, distributed electronically, that are protected by technological measures which either prevent the enabling of read-aloud functionality or interfere with screen readers or other applications or assistive technologies for the blind or persons with a disability under 17 U.S.C. 121.
  2. Wireless telephone handsets – software interoperability: Jailbreaking of smartphones – but not tablets – to allow for apps from outside the provider app store.
  3. Wireless telephone handsets – interoperability with alternative networks: phone unlocking to allow a handset to be redeployed on another phone network.
  4. Motion picture excerpts – commentary, criticism, and educational uses: circumventing the DVD Content Scrambling System for the traditional fair use purposes of comment and criticism where “where circumvention is undertaken solely in order to make use of short portions of the motion pictures for the purpose of criticism or comment in the following instances: (i) in noncommercial videos; (ii) in documentary films; (iii) in nonfiction multimedia ebooks offering film analysis; and (iv) for educational purposes in film studies or other courses requiring close analysis of film and media excerpts, by college and university faculty, college and university students, and kindergarten through twelfth grade educators.” The exemption for motion picture capture makes fairly clear that screen capture is not a circumvention prohibited by the statute. The Register also supported the exemption because “[d]espite the commercial aspect of uses by documentary filmmakers and multimedia ebook authors, … when a short excerpt of a motion picture is used for purposes of criticism and comment, even in a commercial context, it may well be a productive use that serves the essential function of fair use as a free speech safeguard.”
  5. Motion pictures and other audiovisual works – captioning and descriptive audio: permits the circumvention of motion pictures and other audiovisual works contained on DVDs or delivered through online services to facilitate research and development of players capable of rendering captions and descriptive audio for persons who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, or hard of hearing.

In addition to this list, the report specifically identified a number of categories of works that did not earn an exemption.

Works in the public domain

Of greatest note is the ongoing refusal to provide an exemption to circumvent a digital protection measure to obtain a work in the public domain. The Register correctly notes that it is not a violation of section 1201 to circumvent a technological protection measure unless there is a copyright work being sought. Therefore no exemption is required.

This is more than parsing language. To create an exemption would suggest an expansion of section 1201 that is unwarranted. As a result, the report that the exemption is not needed provides ample protection to the public.

Space-shifting for DVDs

The other significant rejection was the space-shifting of DVD content to devices without DVD players such as iPads and other tablets. The U.S. has been behind Europe in providing that non-physical versions of movies are generally offered in streaming mode rather than download format. The ability to acquire a second format of the same content is also generally sold at a premium price. An exemption to section 1201 would have put significant pressure on the motion picture industry regarding this transition. It is likely that this will become of greater economic and legal importance by the next rule-making.

Jailbreaking Limited to Phones – No Tablets, Video-Game Consoles or Computers

The report also rejected the desire to permit video game console interoperability. Much like the rejection of tablet jailbreaking, the report refused to exempt console jailbreaking so that lawful third-party games could be used on a particular platform. In both instances, the Register rejected the evidentiary record on the matter. There is likely little evidence to be developed because the practice may be quite common and the benefits of enforcement are too limited.

The report similarly rejected a desired exemption for jailbreaking computers to allow installation of unauthorized operating systems. This appears to fail for the reasons stated in the other jailbreaking proposals. In contrast to the smartphone app stores, the Register takes the position that the other categories of interoperability limitation have not developed sufficient economic concerns to merit an exemption.

Taken together, the rule-making continues to reflect a very conservative, incremental approach to the development of new technology and the appropriateness of anti-circumvention self-help. The Register has made great strides regarding fair use in the educational and documentary filmmaking environments but was probably overly conservative on iPads and tablet computers.


As a whole, the report is thoughtful and predictable. The process restarts with each triennial review.

In each rulemaking proceeding, the Register and Librarian review the proposed classes de novo. The fact that a class previously has been designated creates no presumption that redesignation is appropriate. While in some cases earlier legal analysis by the Register may be relevant to analyzing a proposed exemption, the proponent of a class must still make a persuasive factual showing with respect to the three-year period currently under consideration. When a class has been previously designated, however, evidence relating to the costs, benefits, and marketplace effects ensuing from the earlier designation may be relevant in assessing whether a similar class should be designated for the subsequent period.

As the Register describes the process, it becomes clear how important the evidentiary record and the economic significance of the particular issue must be. Unless Congress has itself shown a preference for a class of users, such as persons with disabilities, the exemptions are limited to very large classes of users.

Of course, if you did not get what you wanted, start preparing your petition for rule-making VI – coming in just two years.

[1] Known as the DMCA Takedown Provisions, section 512 provide ISPs immunity from copyright liability if the ISP provides an effective method of accepting copyright infringement notice allegations and responds to those notices in a timely manner. Though highly criticized by some organizations, these provisions do not have a triennial review process.