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A Recap of NDN's Panel on Advancing Internet Freedom

On Tuesday July 20th 2010, NDN hosted a speaker panel titled Advancing Internet Freedom: Tackling Barriers to the Global Free Flow of Information. This event featured Daniel Calingaert and Anita Ramasastry two prominent authorities on the topic of internet censorship and the power of online freedom of speech. During their presentations, both presenters discussed topics ranging from mobile economic opportunities abroad to further US government regulation of internet content.

The NDN forum touched heavily upon the groundwork laid by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s January 2010 speech on internet freedom that was lauded as the first of its kind for a foreign policy decision maker.   Clinton spoke about issues of international censorship over the press and individual media publishers, and warned about the “new information curtain” that is cutting off information to developing nations with totalitarian governments.

Both speakers at the “Advancing Internet Freedom” event discussed the role of domestic and foreign government in regulation and expansion of internet services – particularly as they relate to ordinary citizens.  Echoing Secretary Clinton’s remark that “the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it,” Anita Ramasastry discussed the importance advocating for oppressed peoples through greater access to technology and information.  Subsequently, Daniel Calingaert spoke about the rights of citizens and the importance of not accepting censorship in the name of political stability. Both speakers stressed the empowerment of citizens though the creation and sharing of content on social media and internet websites. 

Bloggers to be Subject to FTC Endorsement Disclosure Laws

The Federal Trade Commission Monday released revised regulations holding bloggers responsible for disclosing any freebies or payment associated with their writing.

“The post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement,” the FTC said in a statement. “Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.”

The regulations may have widespread ramifications considering the millions of bloggers and the variety of their audiences. The Associated Press reported Monday bloggers who are caught without providing this disclosure could face $11,000 penalties after the regulations go into effect Dec. 1, 2010.

The disclosure is very similar to the Federal Communication Commission’s Payola Rules for broadcast media, which state that “all sponsored material must be explicitly identified at the time of broadcast as paid for and by whom, except when it is clear that the mention of a product or service constitutes sponsorship identification.”

This update to the FTC’s regulations on testimonials and endorsements is the first since 1980. While the regulations don’t declare how disclosures must be made, they must be “clear and conspicuous,” the AP reported.

Some bloggers touted the new regulations and welcomed recognition of their presence in mass marketing. Others, however, worried the rules would be too difficult to enforce and would lead to favoritism.

MediaBistro’s GalleyCat blog listed several difficult questions and potential problematic areas with the new regulations, including questions about liability if a blogger is writing for a news organization.

“If an unpaid blogger at the Huffington Post ‘endorses’ a consumer product without meeting the FTC guidelines for disclosure of ‘material connections’ to the makers of that consumer product, who’s liable: the blogger or the Huffington Post?” the post asks.

While the new regulations specifically refer to the expansion of regulations on blogs, the FTC also tightened rules on celebrity endorsements, which include mentions in Twitter streams or social networks.

“Along with advertisers, stars can be held liable for making false and misleading claims about a product under the new rules,” the New York Post reported.

Are Personal Blogs Appropriate for Professionals?

Simon Owens of Bloggasm, a blog that focuses on online media and journalism, recently conducted a very intriguing ‘mini-study' centered about the idea of personal blogging done by reporters, journalists, and other professionals.

He was inspired by the recent firings of two prominent writers, both of whom were fired due to participation in personal blogging.  Chez Pazienza, a former producer for CNN, was fired from his job in February because he wrote for Huffington Post and other high-profile blogs.  CNN has a policy against any outside writing without prior approval.

In April, Michael Tunison was fired from the Washington Post after he revealed that he wrote for the sports blog Kissing Suzy Kolber. His bosses told him that he had brought "discredit to the paper" through his blogging.

In order to find out how other newspaper editors and higher-ups felt about this issue, Owens contacted 250 of them, basically asking if they would be against personal blogging on non-beat issues by their writers.  Of those that responded, 44% "either required disclosure of the blog, issued caveats over what subjects couldn't be covered, or had outright bans on having personal blogs at all."


International Copyright Law on the Internet

Since the Internet spans the globe, administering the law is a rather fuzzy process when it comes to the web.  It is also rather easy for more than one country to get involved in a dispute over copyright laws. 

For instance, a person who resides in the United States could post an item to their blog hosted on a server in Russia that violates the copyright of a company in Brazil.  Which country's laws are used in this case?

Sarah Bird, SEOmoz's General Counsel, posted an interesting blog post last week about the Internet and international copyright law in which she discusses the various ways the example above. 

While it is very important to note that she doesn't provide legal advice in her post, she illuminates the myriad of minutiae that can complicate legal proceedings.  It is worth a read to better understand how law is applied to the Wild Wild Web.

Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project Revamps its Online Program

On Friday, our pro-bono client the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) launched a redesigned and revamped version of its website, www.exonerate.org.  MAIP is a member of a network of non-profits around the country that works to provide legal services for people wrongly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.  The Project uses DNA evidence to exonerate and clear the names of people that are victims of shortcomings of the US judicial system. 

By embarking on a new Web program, MAIP hopes to spread awareness of DNA exonerations and garner support from interested lawyers, students, volunteers and professionals.  To do this, MAIP has integrated a blog, online volunteer and contribution forms, and methods for supporters to take action on behalf of the project via the Web.  The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project depends on the assistance of volunteer students and lawyers, so be sure to check out their website and consider lending a helping hand. 

Some interesting tidbits about the MAIP site:

  • Our design and programming teams worked together to build the site entirely in WordPress. One of the problems MAIP had with their past website was that content became outdated and links to news stories died as the years passed.  We tried to battle this problem by setting up the Innocence Project so that they can control what content appears on their site and develop the ability to change their website as they see fit.
  • The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project plans to communicate with volunteers and supporters via their blog.  Check this site for updates on exonerations, case information, and guest blog entries from board members or people the project has helped in the past.

We wish the folks over at the Mid Atlantic Innocence Project the best of luck with their online program–they are a great group of people who are doing exceptional work for those who need help.