New Legal Help for Online Journalists

cmlp logo.jpgThe Berkman Center’s Citizen Media Law Project has launched the Online Media Legal Network (OMLN):

a new pro bono initiative that connects lawyers and law school clinics from across the country with online journalists and digital media creators who need legal help. Lawyers participating in OMLN will provide qualifying online publishers with pro bono and reduced fee legal assistance on a broad range of legal issues, including business formation and governance, copyright licensing and fair use, employment and freelancer agreements, access to government information, pre-publication review of content, and representation in litigation.

This is a valuable initiative. It will help many more people than the individuals who receive assistance from volunteer lawyers and law students in specific cases.

One of the common misconceptions in digital media over the past few years has been the notion that bloggers may be somehow exempt from the laws that apply to other forms of publishing. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The laws aren’t only about defamation, though that’s where the biggest threats to independent journalists can be found — in part because the independents don’t have legal teams at their disposal. Some plaintiffs have sued or threatened to sue largely to shut down criticism, not because they’ve actually been defamed, and just the threat of a lawsuit is often enough to shut down legitimate speech.

There are lots of other legal issues you need to think about if you publish on the Web, including fair use, freelance agreements, setting up businesses and the like. The new network will help with those issues, too, among others.

The CMLP has lined up an impressive collection of lawyers and law clinics for this initiative. They all deserve thanks as well.

(Note: I’m a CMLP co-founder and advisor.)