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October 2020
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FLVTO.biz Petitions SCOTUS To Hear Jurisdiction Argument In Stream-Ripping Lawsuit

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While the music industry's war on stream-ripping sites -- sites that have perfectly legitimate and legal uses -- continues, it's true that this is a war in which one side has almost universally surrendered. Facing legal opposition with well-funded industry groups, most stream-ripping sites simply close up shop when staring down litigation. But Russia-based FLVTO.biz has been an exception. We first wrote about the site's decision to defend itself back in early 2019. At that point, the owner of the site, Tofig Kurbanov, had successfully argued in a Florida court that the United States legal system had no jurisdiction over his site, given that it operates in Russia and makes no effort to entice American patronage.It was a sensible ruling. After all, why should anyone want websites in one nation to be subject to the laws of every other nation's laws just because the internet is designed to be international? And, yet, the RIAA labels appealed the ruling and got it reversed. The case was sent back to the lower courts where it was supposed to once again proceed, except that Kurbanov's team has asked the Supreme Court to consider its jurisdiction arguments once more.

Those plans were then confirmed last month back at the Virginia court where the lawsuit began, which is considering the case anew following the Fourth Circuit ruling. Kurbanov’s lawyers have asked the district court to pause the ongoing proceedings there pending their application to the Supreme Court.That application was submitted earlier this week. It argues that the top court should consider the case, because some Supreme Court style consideration is required on the issue of whether or not “the ‘due process clause’ of the United States Constitution is violated when a foreign citizen is subjected to personal jurisdiction based entirely on: (1) his operation of a website that is popular both within the United States and worldwide, but which is not specifically aimed at the United States; and (2) minor internet-based and internet-initiated transactions entered into by the foreign citizen entirely from outside the United States”.
This is indeed just the sort of important due process argument in the age of the internet that a sober SCOTUS should be weighing in on. And, while we could get lost in the legality of it all, common sense really should rule the day here. Does American law have jurisdiction over foreign entities not making any real effort to do commerce on American soil or does it not? And, if so, what precedent does that set for every other nation out there in terms of how American-based businesses conduct business over the internet?Shall legal pornography websites in America be subject to the more prudish laws of other nations? Should news organizations in America face litigation from countries with far fewer press and free speech protections? Hell, should American entities legitimately selling RIAA label music themselves face threats from countries with obscenity laws and the like?
Evan Fray-Witzer said: “If you operate a website that is popular, then you’re subject to jurisdiction anywhere – and everywhere – that people access the website. And that’s not a precedent that anyone should want to stand, because if Kurbanov can be dragged into court here from Russia, then any US citizen who creates a popular website can expect to be dragged into court anywhere in the world”.The lawyer also told Torrentfreak that the major labels should support his client’s bid to get the Supreme Court to provide clarity on this issue.“If the record companies are so certain that the Fourth Circuit got this question right, then they should be anxious for the Supreme Court to take up the case”, he added. “We invite them to join our petition and ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on these crucial jurisdictional questions. But I’m not holding my breath that they’ll do so”.
It can be hard for the labels to see past the ends of their own noses, but they should realize that they could truly be biting themselves in their own asses if SCOTUS refuses to hear this case and this precedent gets set. The internet is international, but American laws are not.

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posted at: 12:00am on 23-Oct-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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Appeals Court Reinstates Injunction Blocking Federal Agents From Assaulting Portland Journalists

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The city of Portland, Oregon is still in the midst of anti-police brutality protests stemming from the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin. Federal officers arrived in Portland in July, making their presence known by engaging some extremely questionable tactics.Their arrival was met with their addition to an ongoing lawsuit against law enforcement seeking an injunction banning cops of all types from assaulting or dispersing journalists and legal observers. The plaintiffs secured an injunction. They also secured an agreement from local police to stop treating those reporting and observing protests as protesters, exempting them from dispersal orders and forbidding them from being targeted with crowd control measures, such as tear gas and rubber bullets.The federal interlopers gave zero fucks. They were added to the injunction but immediately violated it. The feds' excuse? Sometimes protesters and rioters disguised themselves as press to avoid being dispersed and/or assaulted. The district court pointed out the local police had made no such accusations and appeared capable of controlling crowds without violating their agreement.The federal agencies appealed. In August, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the injunction. A short opinion stated the federal government had shown evidence it would suffer "irreparable harm" if officers weren't allowed to assault members of the press and other non-protesters. The emergency stay of the district court's injunction was granted.The Appeals Court has now fully addressed the government's arguments and reversed its stance. The federal defendants are no longer exempt from the injunction forbidding them from assaulting journalists.The government made three arguments in favor of assaulting journalists and observers. First, it argued journalists would not be deprived of Constitutional rights if assaulted or otherwise removed from areas where protests are taking place. It also argued that observing or recording protests (as observers or journalists) was not protected by the First Amendment -- not when dispersal orders have been given. Finally, it argued federal officers were not targeting journalists and observers for being journalists and observers, so any OC spray/bullets headed in their direction were just part of solid, proven crowd control efforts. This last argument was made despite recordings being submitted to the court that showed federal officers appearing to deliberately target journalists with pepper spray and other forms of force.The Appeals Court [PDF] says a lot of what the government is asserting simply isn't true. There's ample evidence showing federal officers deliberately targeted journalists and observers.

The district court’s preliminary injunction included twelve pages solely dedicated to factual findings that describe in detail dozens of instances in which the Federal Defendants beat plaintiffs with batons, shot them with impact munitions, and pepper sprayed them. The court’s findings were supported by nineteen declarations and video and photographic evidence. The Federal Defendants do not argue that any of the district court’s findings are clearly erroneous, and we conclude the findings are amply supported.As of the time the preliminary injunction was entered, the district court found that the Federal Defendants had engaged in a pattern of conduct that had persisted for weeks and was ongoing. After reviewing plaintiffs’ declarations, photos, and video clips, the district court found that many victims had been standing on public streets, sidewalks, and parks, well away from protestors, and were not engaged in unlawful activity when they were shot, tear gassed, shoved, or pepper sprayed by the Federal Defendants. Unlike Lyons, the district court found that some journalists and legal observers monitoring the protests had been injured by the Federal Defendants more than once.
The plaintiffs' arguments clearly aren't speculative. Actual harm has been shown. And, given the fact federal officers did this repeatedly despite the district court's injunction, there's every reason to believe they will continue to do so.The court also points out the government's claims that its officers' actions against journalists were not retaliatory is clearly bullshit. The Appeals Court says federal officers engaged in retaliatory actions repeatedly. Referring to evidence submitted to the district court, the Appeals Court highlights four acts of retaliation by federal officers.
On July 29, plaintiff Brian Conley was wearing a photographer’s vest marked “PRESS,” a helmet marked “PRESS,” and was carrying a large camera with an attached LED light and telephoto lens. After reviewing video footage submitted by plaintiffs, the district court found that Conley was filming a line of federal officers moving down the street pepper spraying peaceful protesters—including spraying a woman in the face at point blank range who was on her knees in the middle of the street with her hands up—when, without warning, a federal officer pepper sprayed Conley at point blank range.On the night of July 19, Jungho Kim, a photojournalist, was wearing a neon yellow vest marked “PRESS” and a white helmet marked “PRESS” on the front and rear. The district court found that Kim was standing alone, about 30 feet from federal agents, taking photographs, when suddenly and without warning, Kim was shot in the chest, just below his heart with a less-lethal munition. A photograph submitted with Kim’s declaration shows that he was shot where the word “PRESS” was printed on his vest.On the night of July 26, Daniel Hollis, a videographer, was wearing a press pass and a helmet marked “PRESS” in bright orange tape, and carrying a large, professional video-recording camera. Hollis was filming a group of federal agents massed outside the federal courthouse. “Almost immediately,” the federal agents shot at him, striking him just left of his groin. He turned and began to run away, but was shot again in the lower back.On July 27, Amy Katz, a photojournalist, was wearing a hat and tank top marked “PRESS” and carrying a camera with a telephoto lens while covering the protests. Katz was photographing a federal agent who pushed a man down a flight of stairs while arresting him. Another federal agent physically blocked Katz and tried to stop her from photographing the arrest. Katz stepped to the side to continue photographing the arrest, and the federal agent physically shoved her away.
That's only four incidents. The district court listed at least forty-five similar instances -- all of which occurred after the government had been hit with an injunction banning it from engaging in this behavior. The lower court also stated it was "clear" there were more instances that weren't detailed in its decision.The Appeals Court says the press has the same right to access the general public does. It can record officers' actions from public streets and sidewalks. The press certainly does not have less access than protesters, which was the government's argument. The Appeals Court says dispersing the press from these areas is not essential to protecting the government's interests.And the government's interests -- as far as Portland goes -- are very limited. The government gives the court no reason why its task of defending federal property requires it to remove press and observers from public areas away from this property or deliberately target press with crowd control weapons.Finally, the Appeals Court again notes local law enforcement had no problem abiding by the restraining order, even though its jurisdiction covered far more than federal buildings. Every argument the government raised in defense of it assaulting journalists is undercut by the agreement struck between press members and the Portland Police. The feds should have no problem abiding by the injunction, the Appeals Court says.
By its terms, the preliminary injunction the district court entered against the Federal Defendants addresses each of the reasons the Federal Defendants advanced to argue that it was impossible to tailor their dispersal orders. As to the contention that journalists or legal observers might interfere with federal law enforcement if not required to disperse, the preliminary injunction expressly prohibits journalists and legal observers from impeding, blocking, or otherwise interferingwith the lawful conduct of the Federal Defendants. The preliminary injunction leaves the Federal Defendants free to make arrests if there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, even if the perpetrator is dressed as a journalist or legal observer. The preliminary injunction also provides that the Federal Defendants will not be liable for violating the injunction if journalists or legal observers remain in the area after a dispersal order is issued, and are incidentally exposed to crowd-control devices. Finally, though the Federal Defendants argued that large and unique identifying markings on their uniforms could inhibit their ability to carry out their duties, the district court concluded they did not support this claim.
The stay is lifted. The injunction secured three months ago is back in effect. If recent history is any indication of future performance, it will soon be violated by federal agents still in Portland. But if they do violate it deliberately, they won't be given the benefit of a doubt. Qualified immunity will not apply.

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posted at: 12:00am on 23-Oct-2020
path: /Policy | permalink | edit (requires password)

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