PEN on Twitter

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The appeals court properly recognized that our clients have a reasonable basis to fear that the government may be monitoring their conversations, even though it has no reason to suspect them of having engaged in any unlawful activities. The constitutionality of the government’s surveillance powers can and should be tested in court. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree.

Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director, on the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a challenge to the broad, sweeping surveillance powers of the FISA Amendments Act. PEN American Center is a partner in this case.

BREAKING NEWS: Supreme Court Will Hear ACLU Case Challenging Warrantless Wiretapping Law

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fictionthatmatters:

Comic artist receives letter demanding $20,000 from lawyer for libel; draws comic, raises nearly $100,000 and gives money to charity instead.
Above: the comic by Inman that resulted in a $20,000 letter from a lawyer representing FunnyJunk.

FunnyJunk made its decision—to target Inman with a lawyer and perhaps a lawsuit should he fail to comply—and Inman made his. His plan was to raise the money requested by FunnyJunk, take a photo of it, and mail the photo of the cash along with the pic of Carreon’s (purported) mother seducing a rather complacent-looking bear. The actual cash would be split evenly and sent to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. (“Think of the sexy bears!” said the donation button. “Think of the shitty cancer!”)
Though Inman gave himself two weeks to raise the money, Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Badblew through its goal. “Holy shit $20,000 in 64 minutes!” wrote Inman as people funded him in an hour. “YOU PEOPLE ARE AMAZING.”

(via Lawyer demands $20,000, so webcomic raises $100,000 from the Internet | Ars Technica)

fictionthatmatters:

Comic artist receives letter demanding $20,000 from lawyer for libel; draws comic, raises nearly $100,000 and gives money to charity instead.

Above: the comic by Inman that resulted in a $20,000 letter from a lawyer representing FunnyJunk.

FunnyJunk made its decision—to target Inman with a lawyer and perhaps a lawsuit should he fail to comply—and Inman made his. His plan was to raise the money requested by FunnyJunk, take a photo of it, and mail the photo of the cash along with the pic of Carreon’s (purported) mother seducing a rather complacent-looking bear. The actual cash would be split evenly and sent to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. (“Think of the sexy bears!” said the donation button. “Think of the shitty cancer!”)

Though Inman gave himself two weeks to raise the money, Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Badblew through its goal. “Holy shit $20,000 in 64 minutes!” wrote Inman as people funded him in an hour. “YOU PEOPLE ARE AMAZING.”

(via Lawyer demands $20,000, so webcomic raises $100,000 from the Internet | Ars Technica)

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Supreme Court Decision on Stolen Valor Act Promotes Free Expression
The Supreme Court decided in favor of free expression on Thursday by striking down the 2006 Stolen Valor Act.
…For PEN, the issue had echoes of some of the defamation cases we have confronted overseas, where governments have tried to penalize speech deemed offensive to abstract entities or constitutions, as when the Turkish governmentthreatened to jail writers for “insulting Turkishness” or the Turkish military.
In signing on to the Amicus brief by the Media Coalition, PEN did not dispute the idea that military honors have value, but rather that lying about having received these honors somehow diminishes the institution of the award. Moreover, enforcing the Stolen Valor Act would pave the way for the government to enforce the truth, as the brief notes:

Fear of public exposure, rather than fear of criminal sanction, is the inducement to truth on which the Constitution requires us to rely outside of the traditional First Amendment exceptions such as fraud, defamation, and perjury.

The universal solvent of falsity is truth. According to Media Coalition director David Horowitz, ”the best way to counter false speech is always more speech—not censorship, and certainly not criminal prosecution.”
Click here to read the full article
photo by bobstovall on a Creativecommons license

Supreme Court Decision on Stolen Valor Act Promotes Free Expression

The Supreme Court decided in favor of free expression on Thursday by striking down the 2006 Stolen Valor Act.

…For PEN, the issue had echoes of some of the defamation cases we have confronted overseas, where governments have tried to penalize speech deemed offensive to abstract entities or constitutions, as when the Turkish governmentthreatened to jail writers for “insulting Turkishness” or the Turkish military.

In signing on to the Amicus brief by the Media Coalition, PEN did not dispute the idea that military honors have value, but rather that lying about having received these honors somehow diminishes the institution of the award. Moreover, enforcing the Stolen Valor Act would pave the way for the government to enforce the truth, as the brief notes:

Fear of public exposure, rather than fear of criminal sanction, is the inducement to truth on which the Constitution requires us to rely outside of the traditional First Amendment exceptions such as fraud, defamation, and perjury.

The universal solvent of falsity is truth. According to Media Coalition director David Horowitz, ”the best way to counter false speech is always more speech—not censorship, and certainly not criminal prosecution.”

Click here to read the full article

photo by bobstovall on a Creativecommons license

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Dubious Theft Overshadows IPA, PEN Court Visit in Turkey


Representatives of the International Publishers Association (IPA) and PEN International who arrived in Istanbul’s Silivri district to watch the ongoing Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) trial met with a dubious surprise when the realized that their files pertaining to the trial had been stolen from their automobile despite the presence of gendarmerie troops 15 meters away.
Bjorn Smith-Simonsen, the chair of IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, Alexis Krikorian, the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Director, Sara Whyatt, the director of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, and PEN International’s Deputy Chair Eugene Schoulginarrived in Istanbul to monitor the trial and show their solidarity with the writers, journalists and publishers facing charges within the scope of the KCK probe.

(via English :: Dubious Theft Overshadows IPA, PEN Representatives’ Court Visit - Bianet)
Dubious Theft Overshadows IPA, PEN Court Visit in Turkey

Representatives of the International Publishers Association (IPA) and PEN International who arrived in Istanbul’s Silivri district to watch the ongoing Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) trial met with a dubious surprise when the realized that their files pertaining to the trial had been stolen from their automobile despite the presence of gendarmerie troops 15 meters away.

Bjorn Smith-Simonsen, the chair of IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, Alexis Krikorian, the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Director, Sara Whyatt, the director of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, and PEN International’s Deputy Chair Eugene Schoulginarrived in Istanbul to monitor the trial and show their solidarity with the writers, journalists and publishers facing charges within the scope of the KCK probe.

(via English :: Dubious Theft Overshadows IPA, PEN Representatives’ Court Visit - Bianet)

No data is more personal than email correspondence… Email is deeply personal and private. It is an unfiltered view of our thoughts and a catalog of our relationships stretching back for years. Government agents should not be allowed to troll through all of our most private correspondence without proving to a judge that they have probable cause to believe that a search will turn up evidence of a crime.

Catherine Crump, ACLU on the U.S. government’s attempt to read our emails without a warrant

Is US government reading email without a warrant? It doesn’t want to talk about it - Red Tape

(via fictionthatmatters)

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berfrois:


On June 27, 2011 the Supreme Court of the United States struck down a California law that would have banned the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, ruling in a 7-2 decision (Brown v Entertainment Merchants Association) that the law was a violation of the First Amendment. While the decision on its face is about the boundaries and horizons of Constitutionally protected speech, it’s also—like previous Court decisions that explore the convergence of artistic expression, ideas, and free speech—a fascinating document of interpretation, as the Justices “read” video games as postmodern media theorists, grappling with everything from the minutiae of photo-realistic graphics to larger philosophic concerns about what it means to become, literally, part of a narrative.
In theoretical terms, the ruling has a lot in common with reader-response criticism, which was pioneered by Stanley Fish and others in the 1960s and 70s in reaction to the New Critics and others who held that the meaning of a text was to be found primarily within the text itself. Reader-response critics shifted the focus away from the text as a sacrosanct repository of meaning (whether fiction, poetry, drama, etc.), and even its author, to suggest that meaning is created in a hard-to-define, super-charged zone of interaction between text and reader, and, even more radically, that the reader in fact activates the meaning of the text. In the Entertainment Merchants case, Justice Scalia’s arguments turn out to embody a kind of libertarian strain of reader-response theory. “All literature is interactive,” he writes, countering those who find special danger in violent video games because of their interactivity. He cites judge and legal theorist Richard Posner: “Literature when it is successful draws the reader into the story, makes him identify with the characters, invites him to judge them and quarrel with them, to experience their joys and sufferings as the reader’s own.”
In his concurring opinion Justice Alito also explores the interactive dimension of video games (such as Mortal Kombat [1]) although, unlike Scalia, he finds that this quality fundamentally distinguishes video games—in potentially dangerous ways—from the interactivity of books and films. In language which is, paradoxically, a representation of violence in the same way that video game images are a representation of violence, Alito becomes, briefly, a horror writer depicting a gruesome murder, as he describes an avatar who
sees a realistic image of the victim and the scene of the killing in high definition and in three dimensions; who is forced to decide whether or not to kill the victim and decides to do so; who then pretends to grasp an axe, to raise it above the head of the victim, and then to bring it down; who hears the thud of the axe hitting her head and her cry of pain; who sees her split skull and feels the sensation of blood on his face and hands.
“Alito recounts all these disgusting video games,” Scalia writes, “in order to disgust us—but disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.” It’s an argument that is both simple and complicated, veering into semiotics: the relationship between the signifier (words or images that represent something) and the signified (the idea or concept to which the signifier refers) is really a matter of imagination. The “real” to which language refers is always a product of language itself, so that reality is cajoled, conjured, and brought into being by the very signs we use to describe it. Scalia flirts with these deconstructive ideas throughout the majority opinion, as when he suggests that “Alito’s argument highlights the precise danger posed by the California Act: that the ideas expressed by speech—whether it be violence, or gore, or racism—and not its object effects, may be the real reason for governmental proscription.”
All of which raises the question: what does it mean when the sort of reality that the justices legislate is not so much reality per se, but representations of reality, and is there even a difference?

“The Supreme Court School of PoMo Theory”, Nicholas Rombes, The Rumpus

berfrois:

On June 27, 2011 the Supreme Court of the United States struck down a California law that would have banned the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, ruling in a 7-2 decision (Brown v Entertainment Merchants Association) that the law was a violation of the First Amendment. While the decision on its face is about the boundaries and horizons of Constitutionally protected speech, it’s also—like previous Court decisions that explore the convergence of artistic expression, ideas, and free speech—a fascinating document of interpretation, as the Justices “read” video games as postmodern media theorists, grappling with everything from the minutiae of photo-realistic graphics to larger philosophic concerns about what it means to become, literally, part of a narrative.

In theoretical terms, the ruling has a lot in common with reader-response criticism, which was pioneered by Stanley Fish and others in the 1960s and 70s in reaction to the New Critics and others who held that the meaning of a text was to be found primarily within the text itself. Reader-response critics shifted the focus away from the text as a sacrosanct repository of meaning (whether fiction, poetry, drama, etc.), and even its author, to suggest that meaning is created in a hard-to-define, super-charged zone of interaction between text and reader, and, even more radically, that the reader in fact activates the meaning of the text. In the Entertainment Merchants case, Justice Scalia’s arguments turn out to embody a kind of libertarian strain of reader-response theory. “All literature is interactive,” he writes, countering those who find special danger in violent video games because of their interactivity. He cites judge and legal theorist Richard Posner: “Literature when it is successful draws the reader into the story, makes him identify with the characters, invites him to judge them and quarrel with them, to experience their joys and sufferings as the reader’s own.”

In his concurring opinion Justice Alito also explores the interactive dimension of video games (such as Mortal Kombat [1]) although, unlike Scalia, he finds that this quality fundamentally distinguishes video games—in potentially dangerous ways—from the interactivity of books and films. In language which is, paradoxically, a representation of violence in the same way that video game images are a representation of violence, Alito becomes, briefly, a horror writer depicting a gruesome murder, as he describes an avatar who

sees a realistic image of the victim and the scene of the killing in high definition and in three dimensions; who is forced to decide whether or not to kill the victim and decides to do so; who then pretends to grasp an axe, to raise it above the head of the victim, and then to bring it down; who hears the thud of the axe hitting her head and her cry of pain; who sees her split skull and feels the sensation of blood on his face and hands.

“Alito recounts all these disgusting video games,” Scalia writes, “in order to disgust us—but disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.” It’s an argument that is both simple and complicated, veering into semiotics: the relationship between the signifier (words or images that represent something) and the signified (the idea or concept to which the signifier refers) is really a matter of imagination. The “real” to which language refers is always a product of language itself, so that reality is cajoled, conjured, and brought into being by the very signs we use to describe it. Scalia flirts with these deconstructive ideas throughout the majority opinion, as when he suggests that “Alito’s argument highlights the precise danger posed by the California Act: that the ideas expressed by speech—whether it be violence, or gore, or racism—and not its object effects, may be the real reason for governmental proscription.”

All of which raises the question: what does it mean when the sort of reality that the justices legislate is not so much reality per se, but representations of reality, and is there even a difference?

“The Supreme Court School of PoMo Theory”, Nicholas Rombes, The Rumpus

photo by sipstar

A Floridian, Fane Lozman, bought the two-story floating residence in 2002, and had it towed to North Beach Village in Florida, where it stayed in two marinas until a hurricane destroyed the docks in the second marina where it was moored.  In March 2006, Lozman had it towed to a marina in Riviera Beach, and continued to use it as his primary home.   The marina was owned by the city, and it supplied the houseboat with electricity, as well as water from a city utility.   After three years, the city contended that Lozman had not been paying his dockage rent or for city services.  In March 2009, the city told him to pay up, sign a new dockage fee agreement, and improve the structure, or else face a legal claim in admiralty court for trespass and for failure to pay for marine “necessaries.”

Following the usual practice in such maritime cases, the city sued the houseboat itself, and the case became known as “City of Riviera Beach v. That certain unnamed, gray, two story vessel approximately 57 feet in length.”  Whether that court had jurisdiction to hear the city’s claims depended upon whether, legally, the houseboat was a “vessel.”   The city insisted that it was, Lozman argued that it was not.  The city ultimately won in both a federal district court and in the Eleventh Circuit Court.

The district judge concluded that it made no difference that Lozman’s floating home was not intended to be a transportation vehicle, since the prevailing law in the Eleventh Circuit was that any structure that can be towed on the water is a “vessel” for maritime purposes.   The judge ordered Lozman to pay $3,039.99 in delinquent dockage payments, plus $1 for “maritime trespass.”  Adding in interest and some other fees, the final judgment was for $3,053.26.  To cover those assessments, the judge ordered the houseboat to be sold.  It was sold at an auction in March 2010, with the city buying it as the highest bidder.

The Court did not learn until Lozman’s lawyers filed their merits brief in May that the houseboat had since been destroyed.  The brief mentioned that in a single sentence: “The City subsequently destroyed it.”  In July, the city told the Court in its brief that it had tried without success to sell the boat, and that it also could not give it away — both Habitat for Humanity and AMVETS would not accept it as a donation, the city said.  “Faced with the high costs of keeping the houseboat, respondent [the city] destroyed it.”

(Source: scotusblog.com)

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Winners of the first Journal of Legal Education (JLE) Legal Fiction Contest impressed the competition’s prominent judges with their imagination, skill and wit. The top 10 stories will be published in the February 2013 edition of the JLE, and the top 20 stories will be posted online.

Semeraro

Steven Semeraro, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, won the contest with “The Birds They Sang at the Break of Day.” His story topped an impressive 129 competition entries, which came from diverse writers throughout the United States. There were also international submissions from Canada, Germany, Ireland, France, Luxembourg, Israel and South Africa. Contestants who submitted entries included professors, deans, judges, lawyers, law students and professional writers.

International bestselling authors served as judges for the competition. “I was honestly blown away by the level of creativity and craft in these stories,” said Michael Connelly, author of bestselling legal-themed novels such asThe Lincoln LawyerThe Brass VerdictThe Fifth WitnessThe Reversal and The Drop. “These writers delved into all facets of the law but more importantly they dug down deep into characters. It’s a winning combination. ‘The Birds They Sang at the Break of Day’ is a wonderful story that should be read widely. And it’s not the only one. Many, many of these stories should be published and read. These writers certainly have something to say.”

In addition to Professor Semeraro’s first place story, the following writers were among the top ten winners:


Peter Brennan, an engineer and writer living in Philadelphia, “The Lizard, the Justice & the Drunk”

Gerald T. Hendrickson, Esq., a lawyer from St. Paul, Minnesota, “No Defense”

Leslie Gielow Jacobs, Professor at McGeorge School of Law, “Snow White”

Kyle Mallinak, a third-year law student at University of Virginia, “Prague Spring”

Melissa F. Miller, a lawyer and published writer from Pennsylvania, “Black Thursday”

Patrick C. O’Reilly, a lawyer and faculty member at SUNY Buffalo School of Law, “Lunch at MacDougal’s”

Risa Peris, works in business and is a published writer from Phoenix, “She Wore Blue”

John Power, a lawyer in Chicago, “Trusts”

Marc Weitz, a lawyer in LA and Southwestern alumnus, “The Jirga”


"As practitioners and law professors, attorneys are always performing for judges, juries, clients, and students," said Semararo, whose story focuses on a recent law school graduate who plays drums in a live karaoke band; gets advice from a homeless, alcoholic, former street lawyer who never actually went to law school; and has chosen to exclusively defend DUI cases. "The legal fiction writing contest is a welcome chance for us to get off the stage for a while and create the characters that we wish we could be."

Denise Hamilton, author of the Eve Diamond crime novels, Damage Control and The Last Embrace also served as a contest judge. “I was impressed by the high quality of the entries,” she said. “Their breadth and imagination was astounding: Ghost stories, science fiction, stories set in far-flung Africa and Afghanistan and France as well as closer to home. Congratulations to all.”

Other judges included writer Marshall Goldberg (“L.A. Law,” “Paper Chase,” “Newhart,” “It’s Gary Shandling’s Show”) and Charles Rosenberg (legal consultant to “Paper Chase,” “L.A. Law,” “The Practice” and “Boston Legal,” and author of the recently released legal thriller Death on a High Floor).

Southwestern Associate Dean Molly Selvin, the managing editor of the JLE and coordinator of the contest said, “The quality of entries for this competition proves there is a plethora of creativity, wit and skill in the legal writing community. The judges were delighted by so many entries from talented writers, legal scholars and practitioners.”

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September is all about banned books here at PEN American. We reached out to writers, editors, literary illuminati, and PEN staff to write about the banned books that matter to them most. Today’s piece comes from Deji Olukotun, PEN American’s Freedom to Write Fellow. 


About a decade ago, PEN joined with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression to support an initiative called KidSpeak, a website designed to encourage kids to debate free expression issues and, at least initially, to debate whether J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series should be censored. The conversation had been prompted by a number of religious groups that claimed the fantasy series about young wizards promoted occultism and paganism, thereby undermining Christian values. Here is a response from Vicky, a 5th grader:

I think the Harry Potter case is just crazy. I have an idea that kids seven and under need a permission slip to see if it’s okay for seven and under to read Harry Potter books. If parents of kids eight and older complain, the principal should just talk to them and tell them that it’s just fantasy.

What stands out about Vicky’s response, and the response from the rest of the San Francisco elementary school classroom, is not just her indignation at the idea of censoring the Potter books—Vicky crafted a policy that would protect younger children. The discussion prompted Vicky to think about free expression and also to develop her own creative solutions to address the concerns of others who held views different from her own.

Whatever the literary merits of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (critic Harold Bloom wrote that “Rowling’s mind is so governed by clichés and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing”) it is the ability of the books to engage young audiences that will be their enduring legacy. Since the publication of The Sorcerer’s Stone in 1997, kids have discussed, dissected, and debated the books with a critical eye. Anyone who has listened to Mugglecast, a podcast for Harry Potter lovers, must acknowledge the close textual reading of every single chapter of the series, and fan fiction sites abound in an efflorescence of, albeit channeled, creativity. These books have taught children to read, to think, to write, and to criticize, all hallmarks of free expression. (Harry Potter taught me how to read Portuguese. Quidditch is called quadribol; an owl is a coruja.)

READ MORE at PEN.org, including a juicy excerpt from the book