My request of my state legislators: a strong anti-SLAPP statute

This week’s wins by Democrats in Virginia’s House of Delegates and Senate will relegate Republicans to minority status in Richmond and open up progressive possibilities that have been stalled for decades.

But while I look forward to seeing my state pass overdue gun-control legislation, allow localities to scrap Confederate memorials, ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and promote renewable energy instead of coddling the coal industry, I won’t be writing my state delegate and senator about those issues.

Instead, I will ask them to enact a strong anti-SLAPP statute.

SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” which is a concise way of saying “jerks filing defamation lawsuits to make their critics shut up or go bankrupt.” My friend Mike Masnick got hit with one in 2017 for writing at length and with gusto on his Techdirt blog that Cambridge, Mass.-based computer scientist Shiva Ayyadurai did not invent e-mail as he’d claimed.

Ayyadurai–whom independent reports have confirmed did not invent e-mail–responded to Masnick’s exercise of his First Amendment rights by having Gawker-killing lawyer Charles Harder file a $15 million defamation lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Boston.

Judge Dennis Saylor dismissed Ayyadurai’s defamation claims, but the suit didn’t get settled for another 18 expensive months–and while Masnick didn’t have to pay a cent to Ayyadurai, he did have to pay his lawyers. He’s described the experience as “harrowing,” and the risk of the same thing happening to me constitutes a low-level source of existential dread.

Strong anti-SLAPP statutes such as those in California and Washington, D.C., let defendants short-circuit this attack by filing a motion to dismiss that stops the potentially expensive process of discovery and requires action within weeks. Virginia’s anti-SLAPP law starts with the right principles but does not include those protections.

Amending it to allow journalists, activists and other citizens voicing opinions to quash attempts to litigate them into bankruptcy would defend free speech in one of the places where it started. And it shouldn’t have to be a partisan issue: The last attempt to pass a federal anti-SLAPP statute, the SPEAK FREE Act, came from a Texas Republican, then-Rep. Blake Farenthold, in 2015.

That bill drew support from liberals and conservative groups before dying in a subcommittee, much like too many good ideas have in Richmond over the past 25 years. We ought to be able to do better now.

Weekly output: CES recap, cable’s 10G pitch, making Congress smarter about tech policy, whither “GIS”

We’re now more than halfway through this presidential term, which is crazy to think about considering that January 2017 sometimes feels like it happened five years ago.

1/22/2019: Techdirt Podcast Episode 196: The CES 2019 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

For the fourth year in a row, I joined Techdirt editor Mike Masnick on his podcast to compare notes about CES.

1/24/2019: How cable wants to speed up your internet access, Yahoo Finance

The cable industry chose CES week to announce its “10G” initiative for 10-Gbps broadband, which helped ensure that I couldn’t get around to unpacking how much of his plan isn’t new until a couple of weeks later.

1/24/2019: These people are trying to make Congress smarter about tech policy, Yahoo Finance

I’ve had this story on my to-do list for months, but the arrival of a new class of TechCongress fellows finally pushed me to research and write it.

1/25/2019: The Changing Nature of GIS, Trajectory Magazine

I returned to my occasional client to write this wonky article about how cloud services and mobile devices are democratizing geographic information systems in much the same way that they’ve opened up online publishing.

Weekly output: a bum Bitcoin deal, CES recap, Facebook and trusted news

The week after CES is always among my less productive ones–but this year, I can’t blame that on coming down with a CES-transmitted cold. Fortunately, I have the Dealmaker-in-Chief’s accomplishments of the past few days to put my own in a more positive context.

1/15/2018: Kodak bitcoin miner: What this dubious scheme says about technology’s misdirection, USA Today

My last post about CES unpacked a dubious Bitcoin-mining proposition on display in Kodak’s booth.

1/16/2018: Techdirt Podcast Episode 150: The CES 2018 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

I spent an hour or so talking with Techdirt’s Mike Masnick about what we saw at CES and what that suggests about the state of technology. Once again, I was struck by how more than two decades of practice at CES did not stop me from missing some interesting things at the show.

1/20/2018: Facebook and trusted news sources, Al-Jazeera

The news channel had me on to talk–as usual, overdubbed live into Arabic–about Facebook’s announcement that it will survey its users to see which news sites they trust, then prioritize those sources in the News Feed accordingly. I expressed my doubts about that idea, noting that a survey done last summer by the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute found that ranked Buzzfeed less trustworthy than Brietbart News–and that the conspiracy-theory outlet Infowars outranked both.

Moderating a copyfight at the Tech Policy Summit

NAPA–I spent Wednesday and Thursday in this idyllic locale at the Tech Policy Summit, an annual gathering for tech-industry types to debate many of the issues I cover and care about: intellectual property, Internet governance, online identity, telecom competition and American competitiveness.

My contribution to the proceedings was moderating a discussion on copyright policy Wednesday afternoon between Jonathan Taplin, a professor at the University of Southern California and director of USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, and Mike Masnick, founder of Floor64 and editor of Techdirt, a regular read of mine.

I knew that the two would disagree about quite a few things, especially after re-reading this post from Masnick critiquing an earlier talk by Taplin–and that I’ve agreed with a lot of Masnick’s tech-policy work. So I thought I’d try to start on neutral ground, by observing how using technology to automate and accelerate a human activity can upset people who had no earlier objection to it.

I brought up one of my favorite examples of this, noting that after my car stereo was stolen with a CD in it, nobody would have objected if I burned a new disc from a digital copy I’d made myself–but what if that copy was a friend’s? What if it was a stranger’s, found online? (The prop I used at the podium was my copy of The Band’s The Last Waltz; Taplin produced the movie that yielded that soundtrack.) Then I observed that Masnick wasn’t a fan of using software to automatically ticket red-light violators, asked my first question–and things got a little contentious.

When the organizers post the video of the conversation, you’ll want to watch it. In the meantime, you can get a sense of the proceedings from the tweets by audience members, archived after the jump.

Update, 6/25/2012: The video of our panel is now up at the TPS site. Enjoy!

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