The Internet is a free space and I can say whatever I want, whenever! At least that is what we would love to believe – but people have been fined ridiculous sums of money, or even gone to jail over ‘troublesome’ tweets or blog posts deemed offensive or erring on the side of the law. This made the Media Junkie seek answers to just how far can one push at the borders of the envelope of freedom when active in cyberspace.
The Media Junkie caught up with Prof. Mark Pearson (Twitter: @journlaw) for a quick chat! He is a media law and ethics researcher, teacher, journalist and Australian correspondent for Reporters Without Borders. Pearson is also the author of the 2012 book, ‘Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued‘ [Amazon: Book, Kindle].
Media Junkie: Thanks for coming on Diary of a Media Junkie, Prof Mark Pearson.
Thanks for having me.
Media Junkie: I looked through your book, “Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued”, and I must say it struck me that it seems to cater to societies that are reasonably democratic. What would you say to twitizens and bloggers in repressive or semi-repressive societies. Perhaps, there are ways they could also stay out of judicial trouble.
Yes, it is true that I expect the main audience for the book to be social media users and bloggers in Australia, the UK, the US and Canada, but it does take a world perspective and has a chapter on the dangers of working within highly censored regimes. To quote a passage from that chapter, titled ‘Big Brother and you: censorship hotspots and security laws’:
So how does all this affect what you can or cannot write online? The right to remain silent might be your safest option, but bloggers and social media users feel compelled to have their voices heard. It offers some comfort to be publishing from a country with constitutional safeguards for free expression ranking highly in world media freedom listings.
You also need to be extra careful that your words or images do not implicate someone in a country with a stronger censorship regime than your own. Remember, your blogs, tweets and Facebook pages can be accessed by authorities in other countries, even if they have an Internet firewall in place for their citizens.
Also you need to be careful with what you write about the activities of your friends and colleagues from other countries. I’m sure you would not want another blogger’s imprisonment or torture on your conscience if the security agencies in their home country arrest them over something you have have posted from the cyber-safety of your free expression haven. You need to bear this in mind if your network extends to vulnerable individuals living in such regimes.
For most minor publishing offences they would only be liable if they actually travelled there because extradition treaties etc do not normally extend to lesser publishing crimes and civil breaches. However, serious matters like blogging about terrorism, child pornography and other crimes can trigger extradition proceedings. They should be cautious about travelling to that other country, however.
“The key expression is “Freely viewed does not equal freely used”. Again, to quote the book:
Digital theft of creative work is rampant on the Internet and social media, as most of us know from the music, gaming and software piracy programs that have emerged over recent years. Some thieves have been pursued in court in either criminal prosecutions or civil actions. Both options are open. Authorities will normally only prosecute under the criminal law and fine or jail the perpetrators if the theft has happened on a large commercial scale. But private individuals and companies have the option to sue for damages for breach of copyright in their courts if they can identify and serve a defendant.
And that’s often the problem – finding the John or Jane Doe who has reproduced the material without your permission and then, even if you do win a judgment against them, actually extracting compensation from them.
The enforcement of intellectual property laws varies markedly throughout the world, as you have probably witnessed in the form of pirated labeled clothing and bootleg DVDs openly on sale in the streets of some developing countries. For some creators there is little that can be done to preserve the creative value of their work once it has been reproduced brazenly online. As a blogger, it is often as much a moral obligation you have to your fellow creators to only draw upon their work under the allowable fair dealing provisions and with full and thorough acknowledgment of their original authorship.
Courts throughout the world have turned their attention to whether you are breaching copyright by linking to copyright material or linking to other sites that in turn infringe on someone else’s copyright. There has been a wide range of outcomes, so you should follow the decisions in your own jurisdiction closely and take legal advice if you are in any doubt about the risks involved by linking to other material.”
Remember, however, there are Creative Commons licences and ‘fair use’ defences available, which I explain.
There will usually be defences available – the trick is to be aware of them beforehand so you can operate within them.
But of course the only advice I could give once you have received a legal threat is: “Get legal advice – and fast!”
It’s been my pleasure, and your blog is brilliant.