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Website Legalities

The ACLU Educates Tallahassee Public Officials To The Legalities Of Personal Websites

The City Of Tallahassee has a very long history for various violations of the First Amendment with the Legislature’s (Redundant) Unconstitutional Laws Being Illegally Used Against Citizens For Legal Freedom’s Of Expressions. While many out-dated laws are Unconstitutional on their face as written, they are also being illegally misapplied by the corruption of government officials like Tallahassee Police Officers for “political retaliations” of exposing them of their crimes and/or unethical conducts.

Police Officers, Prosecutors and Judges working daily together like a “mafia family” often think of themselves as “above the law”. There are many activities conducted by American citizens daily that are legally protected under the First Amendment as declared in Federal Courts. You have legal constitutional and civil rights regardless if public officials want you to believe that you do just because they break the law and violate our United States Constitution. Giving Government Officials the Finger “The Bird“, Publishing Their Public Information of Names, Address, Phone Numbers, Photos, etc., Recording them with video and audio during their public servant duties, etc. is all legally protected for Legal Freedoms Of Expressions. The City Of Tallahassee has too many officers that are poorly trained and/or running the streets as Rogue Cops that don’t know, don’t care and don’t follow the actual laws with their “good ol’ boy workings” among their buddies.

The Supreme Court Case Of Paul Cohen V. California clearly established the legal standing for a citizen to question authority. Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971) was a United States Supreme Court case dealing with freedom of speech. The Court overturned a disturbing the peace conviction of a man wearing a jacket decorated with profanity of “Fuck The Draft” inside the Los Angeles Courthouse in the corridor outside the division 20 of the municipal court.

IS MY WEB SITE LEGAL?

This FAQ considers personal web sites that present text and images of the author for free to the general public. Additional legal rules will apply to web sites that sell merchandise, charge for admission, or gather information from minors.

Can the government impose more restrictions on web sites than on other kinds of speech?

No! In the landmark ruling of Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997), the United States Supreme Court held that the government has very little power to restrict speech on the internet. The Federal Communications Commission has some authority to regulate the use of the limited public airwaves, but these broadcast rules do not apply to the internet. As a general rule, if it would be legal to say something on the sidewalk, it will be legal to say it on the internet.

A federal court in Seattle has held that people have the same right to protest in cyberspace as they do on sidewalks. U.S. District Court Judge William Dwyer ruled that people cannot be barred from putting offensive material on the Internet.

Can I criticize people on my web site?

Usually Yes! (There are limitations to the speech of government officials like military soldiers working in government for criticizing their leaders like the President) The constitution protects speech that has a critical or negative tone just as much as it protects speech with a positive tone. However, a speaker could be sued for defamation (also known as libel or slander) for making injurious false statements about another person. However, the standards of libel or slander are raised (“prove actual malice”) when directed towards government and public figures.

To prevail in a defamation suit, the person bringing the lawsuit must prove four things:

(a) The speaker made a false statement of fact. Opinions and insults are not facts. “My neighbor robbed a bank” is a statement of fact that will either be true or false. “My neighbor is a jerk” is a statement of opinion that cannot be proven true or false in court, so it can never be the basis for a defamation action.

(b) The statement was not protected by a legal privilege, such as the attorney/client privilege, doctor/patient privilege, priest/penitent privilege. Statements on a web site open to the general public will not be protected by a legal privilege.

(c) The speaker had the proper mental state. Speakers cannot be punished for making legitimate mistakes about the facts. Courts have two different tests to decide if an error of fact was legitimate or not. In cases brought by public figures like government officials or celebrities, the plaintiff must prove that the speaker had “actual malice” (the speaker knew that the statement was false, or had reckless disregard for truth or falsity). New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964). In cases brought by private individuals, the plaintiff could also prevail by proving that the speaker was negligent (the speaker should have known the statement was false).

(d) The statement was capable of injuring reputation. “My neighbor is left-handed” might be false, but it is not capable of injuring reputation.

Can I publish personal information about someone on my web site without their permission?

Yes! In general, the First Amendment protects the publication of legally obtained information. Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001). This includes names, addresses, and phone numbers including that of government officials and law enforcement officers. Sheehan v. Gregoire, 272 F.Supp.2d 1135 (W.D.Wash. 2003). Brayshaw v. City Of Tallahassee, Florida 709 F.Supp.2d 1244, 1248 (N.D. Fla. 2010), (holding Florida Statute 843.17 Unconstitutional as applied for false arrest and on it’s face for the mere publication of a police officer’s name, address and phone number, in part because there was no true threat for the re-publications of public information). However, some types of information (such as trade secrets or medical information) may be protected by specific laws. If you were working with a security clearance with the military, FBI, CIA , etc. or had a confidentiality agreement for your work, you may have legal standings upheld for reasons that your free speech and free press cannot be used in these areas.

Can I criticize businesses or corporations on my web site?

Yes! It is legal to post a “gripe site” that criticizes a business or corporation. False statements on a gripe site are subject to the general rules of defamation law.

Can I use the name of a business or corporation on my web site?

Yes! Trademark laws protect businesses and consumers by prohibiting the deceptive sale of merchandise under the same name, or a confusingly similar name, as used by an earlier source of the goods. Not every use of a company’s name is a trademark violation, only use of the name to designate the source of goods or services. It is not a trademark violation to mention the name or trademark of a business in the context of a gripe site that complains about that business.

Can I use the name of a business or corporation as the address of my web site?

It is not a trademark violation to operate a gripe site whose name incorporates and comments on a business, like http://www.ihateXYZcorp.org or http://www.XYZcorpsucks.com. Tauban Co. v. Webfeats, 219 F. 3d 770 (6th Cir. 2003). The answer is more complicated if the web address consists only of the name of the company being criticized, as in http://www.XYZcorp.com. This is not trademark infringement if the site merely contains criticism.

Can my web site talk about sex?

Yes! Erotic speech and pictures containing nudity are not automatically obscene. Government may pass laws against “obscene” expression, but those laws must be very narrow in their scope. The government may only ban as “obscene” material that: (a) appeals to the average person’s prurient interest in sex; (b) depicts sexual conduct in a manner that is “patently offensive” to community standards; and (c) taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973). Child pornography is another matter, because children are harmed when the images are made. For this reason, there are strong state and federal laws against the manufacture, sale, and possession of child pornography. New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747 (1982). If the images are created without the involvement of real children (as happens with computer-generated images or photographs of youthful-looking adults), then the ordinary obscenity rules apply, and not the stricter rules against child pornography. Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 (2002).

Can my public school expel or suspend me for what I post on my web site?

No! Schools have some authority to regulate how students behave on campus or at school sponsored events. They may also control the use of the school’s own computers. However, public schools have no authority to control what students publish on the internet from non-school computers.

Can I be sued or prosecuted for content that other people post on my bulletin board or blog outside of my control?

No! A federal law of the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA) says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1).

Can government officials have my web site or postings taken down without my permission?

No!  They can be sued in federal court under 1983 for violating your constitutional and civil rights.  A Florida Appeals Court recently ruled that “even defamatory comments about a business cannot be forced off the web“. The Florida Supreme Court has said that the Federal Communications Decency Act is clear: it provides “absolute immunity” to companies like “Xcentric” that allow third-party publishers to put otherwise illegal postings on the Internet. And that’s true even in this case where the person who posted the review later “begged” the company to take it down.

There are few categories of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment. For example, the First Amendment does not protect certain modes of speech or expression, including true threats, fighting words, incitements to imminent lawless action, and classes of lewd and obscene speech. Sheehan v. Gregoire, 272 F. Supp. 2d 1135, 1141 (W.D. Wash. 2003), Brayshaw v. City Of Tallahassee, Florida 709 F.Supp.2d 1244, 1248 (N.D. Fla. 2010).

U.S. District Court Judge William Dwyer ruled that people cannot be barred from putting offensive material on the Internet.

What should I do if I get sued about my web site?

Some homeowner’s insurance policies or general liability policies provide coverage for lawsuits based on the insured person’s speech. This is sometimes referred to as coverage for “advertising injury.” Check your policy, and if in doubt contact your insurer to see if they have a legal duty to find you a lawyer.

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