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October 2021

MediaLawLetter October 2021

in this issue

From the Executive Director’s Desk: A Recent History of the MLRC

George Freeman

Executive director George Freeman reviews the past six years of MLRC, an eventful period that saw the organization adapting to a global pandemic, a president at war with our members, and more.


Baltimore Jury Returns Defense Verdict in Public Official Media Defamation Trial

Chad R. Bowman, Maxwell S. Mishkin, and Emmy Parsons

A Baltimore jury returned a defense verdict at the end of a two-week, in-person trial against Sinclair Broadcast Group and its investigative reporter Chris Papst, in a media defamation and false light invasion of privacy case over a series of broadcast news reports.

Winning Under the Negligence Standard: CBS Affiliate Reasonably Relied on Law Enforcement When Airing Wrong Mug Shot

Michael J. Lambert

“The negligence element of the defamation claim is dispositive in this case.” Media law practitioners do not expect to see this sentence in an opinion at the motion to dismiss stage.

Unanimous Georgia Supreme Court Resuscitates Georgia Anti-SLAPP Law

A long-awaited decision of the Georgia Supreme Court has restored life to the state’s anti-SLAPP statute, reversing decisions by a state trial court and the Georgia Court of Appeals that backhanded basic First Amendment principles and threatened to leave the law’s protections an empty shell.

Federal Court Dismisses Defamation, Fraud Claims Against Producers and Spotify for “Son of a Hitman” Podcast

Reid Pillifant

Parker’s lawsuit claimed the 10-part series had “irrevocably damaged her reputation” by insinuating she had schemed with the F.B.I. to convict Harrelson, and that producers had fraudulently induced her participation in the podcast when they failed to disclose that Harrelson’s son, Brett, served as an executive producer.


Michigan Court Rejects Defamation and Related Claims Against Independent Investigative Journalists

Brian D. Wassom

The case demonstrates that, even in the absence of an anti-SLAPP statute, Michigan courts can be persuaded to immediately dispose of bogus attempts to chill unwanted reporting.


Third Circuit: Section 230 Does Not Bar Pennsylvania Statutory Right of Publicity Claim Against Facebook

Dori Hanswirth, Michael E. Kientzle, and Rachel Carpman

The Third Circuit split with a leading Ninth Circuit opinion holding that internet service providers are immune from all state intellectual property law claims.

The Copyright Small Claims Court

Michael Lambert

The copyright small claims court, designed to provide copyright claimants a quicker and less expensive way to enforce their rights, will hear limited types of copyright claims, counterclaims, and defenses.

Fifth Circuit Decision: “It Is Not a Crime to Be a Journalist.”

JT Morris

A recent decision from the Fifth Circuit concluded that officials have no qualified immunity after they arrested a citizen journalist for asking a police officer for information as part of reporting the local news.


Police Officer Who Fired at Journalists During Protest Protected by Police Immunity Law

Andrew M. Pauwels

Though finding that the photographers were not participants in the protest, were wearing press badges, and had not refused to comply with any specific direction from police, Judge Archer ruled that the statute immunized Corporal Debono from the charges and dismissed the case. 


Maryland “Broadcast Ban” Is Unconstitutional as Applied to NPR Podcast

Leslie Minora, Max Mishkin, and Charles D. Tobin

A Maryland federal judge has ruled that a state law banning the broadcast of lawfully-obtained recordings of criminal trials violates the First Amendment as applied to a National Public Radio podcast.


Case Closed: Alabama Supreme Court Guts Open Records Law

J. Evans Bailey

With this ruling, it appears that the media will only be able to access law enforcement records if law enforcement makes a voluntary disclosure, the records are introduced as exhibits at trial, or, possibly, if the case is already closed. The sweeping ruling stands as a high-water mark for government secrecy of law enforcement records in Alabama.

Utah Court Rules Journalist Entitled to Names of Lobbyists Hired to Delist Gray Wolf

Jeffrey J. Hunt, David C. Reymann, and Jeremy M. Brodis

The court held that the names of the subcontractors being paid with state funds to lobby for wolf-delisting were not properly classified as protected “trade secrets” or “commercial information,” under Utah’s open records statute, and that in any event the names must be released because the public interest in access outweighs any interests in restriction of access.

A View From the Inside: ‘The Rich Don’t Always Fight Fair’: Guardian Lawyers, Libel and Lawsuits

Gill Phillips

Freedom of speech is a fundamental part of any democracy, but exercising and defending it can be a difficult and expensive thing.