China bans mentions of newly discovered species of beetle from social media

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The Rhyzodiastes (Temoana) xii is a newly classified species of beetle, indigenous to China's Hainan Island, whose name is a tribute to Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Read the rest

In Madagascar, pineapple jokes are a form of dangerous, soon-to-be-banned dissent

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Madagascar, one of the world's poorest nations, is led by president Hery Rajaonarimampianina, who infuriated his people by insisting that the economy was doing well and that naysayers couldn't "provide evidence that the country was getting poorer." Read the rest

Snowden publicly condemns Russia's proposed surveillance law

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Edward Snowden has taken to Twitter to condemn Russia's proposed "Yarovaya law," which provides prison sentences of 7 years for writing favorably about "extremism" on the Internet, criminalizes failure to report "reliable" information about planned attacks, and requires online providers to retain at least six months' worth of users' communications, 3 years' worth of "metadata" and to provide backdoors to decrypt this material. Read the rest

Salt Lake City apartment complex threatens tenants with eviction if they don't "Friend" the building

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The landlords at City Park Apartments stuck memos on their tenants' doors last week, outlining a "Facebook addendum" requiring tenants to Friend the building on Facebook or lose their lease. Read the rest

Billy Corgan upset that "the wrong racial epithet" could destroy his career

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Billy Corgan, of the Smashing Pumpkins, laments the fact he can't say a certain word without becoming unpopular, which is the result of social justice groups shutting down free speech.

"It's pretty remarkable that I could say one word right now that would destroy my career," he said, as the screen displayed images of Michael Richards and Paula Deen, both of whom faced derision after using the N-word. "I could use the wrong racial epithet or say the wrong thing to you or look down at the wrong part of your body and be castigated and it's a meme and I'm a horrible person. Every day through the media, through advertising, we see people being degraded, we see people doing all sorts of things that we should be horrified at as a culture. So we've normalized all sorts of things, but we live in a world where one word could destroy your life but it's OK to, if you're a social-justice warrior, spit in somebody's face."

Yet, he says, such groups "don't have power." The epiphany: always hovering just out of view. Good luck sticking to the right racial epithets, Billy. Read the rest

German politician arrested in Berlin for insulting Turkish president

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Bruno Kramm, leader of Berlin's branch of the German Pirate Party, was arrested Saturday for insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Kramm was detained while conducting a "literary analysis," in support of comedian Jan Boehmermann, outside the Turkish Embassy in Berlin. As part of the publicity stunt, he read two lines of Boehmermann poem ridiculing Erdogan.

The incident comes after chancellor Angela Merkel allowed prosecutors to file charges against Boehmermann, following Turkish demands that he be punished for broadcasting the poem on local television.

Boehmermann, however, was not physically detained by police.

RT reports that Kramm was "approached by several police officers" after he began citing the lines and taken into custody. Police dispersed the gathering, according to RT.

The arrest will further embarrass the German government, which sees itself as supportive of free speech but has failed to scrap an old law against insulting foreign heads of state. Merkel has promised to do so, but has also been criticized for condemning the poem and cosying up to the Turks to get them to accept more Syrian refugees. Read the rest

Campus cop orders students to scribble over penis on a "free speech ball"

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A University of Delaware police officer forced a student to scribble over a drawing of a penis inscribed on a gigantic "free speech" beach ball because it doesn't "open up a conversation." He went on to lecture the students who had the ball on display about what kinds of free speech he would tolerate.

“A campus police officer should never ask students to self-censor their constitutionally protected speech,” said FIRE's Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon in a statement. “As a public university, UD must abide by the First Amendment, which has very few exceptions—and subjectively offensive words or images are not one of them.”

The officer's insistence that he had a duty to be the speech police was quite remarkable.

"If I were to write, 'I think Donald Trump should be the next president, I think that's something we could have a discussion about," he said. "Drawing a penis, or a swastika, or putting the n-word on there, what does that do?"

The YAL student responded that the two of them—the officer, and the student—were having a discussion about it at that very moment.

"I don't know that it really opens up a conversation," said the officer, disagreeing. "I just think it's meant to provoke."

Here's the thing, officer: the police are not in charge of deciding which kind of speech "opens up a conversation" and which kind is just "meant to provoke." Nor is there anything illegal about provocative speech. Sometimes speech should offend.

Hit and Run: U. of Delaware Students Drew a Penis on a Free Speech Ball. Read the rest

German chancellor allows prosecution of satirist who insulted Turkish president

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A German satirist faces court action after insulting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on television.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, in granting Turkey's request to allow the prosecution of Jan Boehmermann, cast her decision as adherence to the country's laws against insulting heads of state: “In a state governed by the rule of law, it’s not the domain of the government, but rather the prosecutors and the courts, to weigh individual rights.”

But critics say the law itself is an unacceptable infringement of essential freedoms, and point to another issue weighing heavily on Merkel's mind: the need to keep Turkey sweet so it will accept more refugees.

The furor has centered on Boehmermann, a comedian with public broadcaster ZDF who two weeks ago recited a poem about Erdogan that plumbed the depths of bawdiness in an effort to test the boundaries of acceptable satire under a law protecting foreign heads of state from libel. Merkel says her decision wasn’t a prejudgment on the satirist’s culpability.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday that the German comedian had committed a “crime against humanity” by insulting the Turkish head of state. “No one has the right to insult” Erdogan, Kurtulmus told reporters. Erdogan himself also filed a complaint with German prosecutors seeking legal action.

Boehmermann would receive no more than a small fine if convicted, according to legal experts. The poem was designed to test German limits on free speech, writes the BBC.

In true Boehmermann fashion, the poem was more complicated than simply a string of obscenities.

Read the rest

Kickstarting a history of women and free speech in comics from CBLDF

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Charles from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund sez, "CBLDF is kickstarting She Changed Comics, a history of how women changed free expression in comics!" Read the rest

John Oliver on Apple vs FBI and the new crypto wars

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John Oliver continues to deliver the best comedy tech analysis in the business, with an epic rant/explainer that delves into Apple vs FBI and the new crypto wars with scathing wit and deep, technical truth that's made miraculously accessible to a general audience. Read the rest

"Je Suis Charlie," but your free speech is terrorism

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It's been a year since the horrific Charlie Hebdo attack and the subsequent outpouring of defense of free speech from all quarters -- the insistence that free societies demand tolerance of viewpoints, even deeply offensive ones. Read the rest

Google steps up to defend fair use, will fund Youtubers' legal defenses

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After years of missteps, blunders and disasters in which Youtube users have been censored through spurious copyright claims or had their accounts deleted altogether, Google has announced an amazing, user-friendly new initiative though which it will fund the legal defense of Youtube creators who are censored by bad-faith copyright infringement claims. Read the rest

Congressional hearings are bad news for gag orders banning online reviews

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Last week's Senate Commerce Committee hearings invited testimony on the Consumer Review Freedom Act, which would ban the increasingly widespread practice of inserting "non-disparagement" clauses in consumer contracts that are used on products and services from apartment buildings to cellphones to dental care. Read the rest

Publicity Rights could give celebrities a veto over creative works

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EFF, the Organization for Transformative Works, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund have filed a brief [PDF] in a Supreme Court case over "publicity rights" -- the right of famous people to veto the use of their names and likenesses in other works, like caricatures, documentaries, and biographies. Read the rest

Hundreds of Canadian artists call for repeal of surveillance law

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Bill C-51 is a sweeping, radical mass-surveillance bill proposed by the current Canadian Tory government, which will be fighting an election next month. Read the rest

Free speech versus "compelled attention"

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Yesterday's story about a woman who made her Twitter account private because of harassment from men sparked a lot of discussion about how blocking and free speech interact with each other. Here's my $0.02 on the matter: Read the rest

For the first time ever, a judge has invalidated a secret Patriot Act warrant

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Calyx is a privacy-oriented ISP. In 2004, the FBI brought its owner, Nicholas Merrill, a National Security Letter -- one of the USA Patriot Act's secret search warrants, which comes with a gag order prohibiting the recipient from ever disclosing its existence.

Merrill has fought the gag order for 11 years, refusing to give up despite government attempts to get the case booted and to run up the court costs beyond Merrill's ability to pay.

He had a partial victory in 2010, when he and the ACLU won a court victory that allowed him to disclose some elements of the NSL, but left important details -- including the categories of information the FBI believes it can request under an NSL -- still secret. This latest victory overturns that restriction.

The judge in this case, Judge Victor Marrero, also presided over a 2007 case that overturned part of the Patriot Act, requiring investigators to go through the courts in order to get NSLs. In his Calyx decision, he condemned the government's secrecy as "extreme and overly broad."

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero’s decision invalidated the gag order in full, finding no “good reason” to prevent Merrill from speaking about any aspect of the NSL, particularly an attachment to the NSL that lists the specific types of “electronic communication transactional records” (“ECTR”) that the FBI believed it was authorized to demand. The FBI has long refused to clarify what kinds of information it sweeps up under the rubric of ECTR, a phrase that appears in the NSL statute but is not publicly defined anywhere.

Read the rest

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