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Supreme Court declines to hear three speech-related cases

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering    

Supreme Court declines to hear three speech-related cases

  • The nation’s highest court lets stand appellate rulings about press access to troops at war, journalists covering demonstrations and music piracy.

Oct. 14, 2004 — In the first weeks of its new term, the Supreme Court has turned away cases involving Hustler magazine reporters’ access to troops in Afghanistan, a photographer’s detention during the Elian Gonzalez saga and the recording industry’s attempts to obtain information about those who are pirating music on the Internet.

Flynt’s case began after the Pentagon denied his request to allow his reporters to cover U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan after Sept. 11. Flynt sued, asking the court to throw out the Pentagon rules denying him access.

In defending the case, John Griffiths, attorney for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, told CNN that nothing would prevent Flynt from sending his own reporters to the front lines, but they would not be housed with military personnel.

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge David B. Sentelle of Washington confirmed a lower court decision in ruling that “there is no constitutionally based right for the media to embed with U.S. military forces in combat.”

In turning Flynt’s case away this week, the high court let stand the appellate court ruling.

The Supreme Court also let stand a ruling against a photographer who was detained by police during demonstrations relating to Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was returned to Cuba in 2000 after surviving a storm in the waters near Florida.

Freelance photographer Albert Durruthy was covering a demonstration in April 2000 when a Miami police officer told him to leave the street. While he was leaving he was grabbed from behind by one officer, Jennifer Pastor, and detained.

Pastor initially claimed Durruthy was resisting arrest. When videotape showed otherwise, she told the court that the arrest could still be justified because he was violating a Florida law prohibiting pedestrians from walking in the street where there is a sidewalk, Gannett News Service reported.

The trial court ruled in favor of Durruthy, saying that since the road was closed to traffic, he did not have to move. The court also ruled that he was “clearly a member of the media acting within the scope of his journalistic duties.”

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Miami (11th Cir.) overturned the lower court, ruling that traffic did not have to be in the street for the pedestrian to violate the law. The court also did not recognize a legal distinction between members of the media and the public.

The Supreme Court also refused to hear an appeal from the Recording Industry Association of America, which lost a battle over a tactic it used to combat illegal music file-sharing.

The RIAA sued Verizon in 2002 after the company refused to hand over personal information about a customer who was illegally disseminating more than 600 songs. The industry group had argued that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act gave it the power to demand the identity of copyright infringers directly from Internet service providers. Verizon argued that the RIAA must instead first file lawsuits and request a subpoena from a court. U.S. District Judge John Bates rejected Verizon’s argument, siding with the RIAA.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., overturned the decision, rejecting the RIAA’s argument that ISPs are legally responsible for the information stored on their client’s computers. The court found that the DMCA did not apply to the controversy and therefore the RIAA could not directly subpoena subscriber information from Verizon.

(Flynt v. Rumsfeld; Media counsel: Paul Cambria, Lipsitz Green Fahringer Roll Salisbury & Cambria L.L.C., Buffalo, NY; Durruthy v. Pastor; Media counsel: Marc Whites, Whites & Kapetan, Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Verizon Internet Services, Inc. v. Recording Industry Association of America; Counsel: Andrew McBride, Wiley Rein & Fielding, Washington D.C.) EF

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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