Is It a Crime to Publish Parody Videos That Use “Lewd … Language” Meant to “Embarrass and Emotionally Torment” Police Officers?

December 26, 2011

(Volokh.com) Yes, the Renton (Wash.) city prosecutor’s office concludes, applying the Washington “cyberstalking” statute — an excellent example of the dangers of the broad “cyberbullying” and “harassment” statutes that I have often condemned. KIRO-TV reports:

The Renton City Prosecutor wants to send a cartoonist to jail for mocking the police department in a series of animated Internet videos.
The “South-Park”-style animations parody everything from officers having sex on duty to certain personnel getting promoted without necessary qualifications…. [Last week, the prosecutor filed] a search warrant accusing an anonymous cartoon creator, going by the name of Mr. Fiddlesticks, of cyberstalking (RCW 9.61.260). The Renton Police Department and the local prosecutor got a judge to sign off as a way to uncover the name of whoever is behind the parodies….
The series of web-based short cartoons feature a mustachioed street cop and a short-haired female bureaucrat. The dry, at times, witty banter between the two touches on some embarrassing insider secrets, some of which seem to match up with internal affairs investigations on file within Renton PD.
Cartoon Character of Officer: “Is there any reason why an anonymous video, with no identifying information that ties it to the department or city is being taken more seriously than officers having sex on duty, arguing with outside agencies while in a drunken stupor off duty, sleeping while on duty, throwing someone off a bridge, and having inappropriate relationships with coworkers and committing adultery?”
Cartoon Character of Bureaucrat: “The reason is that internal dirt is internal. The department will crucify certain people and take care of others.”
A criminal court document, uncovered by Team 7 Investigators, not only shows how badly the city of Renton wants to “out” the cartoonist (who goes by the name MrFiddlesticks), but states some of the fake character’s lines discuss real life incidents….

Here’s the potentially relevant text from Rev. Code Wash. 9.61.260:

A person is guilty of cyberstalking if he or she, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass any other person, and under circumstances not constituting telephone harassment, makes an electronic communication [defined as transmission of information by wire, radio, optical cable, electromagnetic, or other similar means … includ[ing] … internet-based communications] to such other person or a third party: (a) Using any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act ….

Under the prosecutor’s view, any statement — including on a blog, in a YouTube video, in a newspaper article, on television, or whatever else — is a crime if it is made “with intent to harass, … torment, or embarrass” the subject of the person “[u]sing any lewd, lascivious, indecent, or obscene words, images, or language.” A comedian’s joke that “lewd[ly]” or “lascivious[ly]” described President Clinton’s behavior with Monica Lewinsky, or for that matter Congressman Weiner’s behavior, would be a crime if it was made “with intent to … embarrass” the President or the Congressman. The Hustler parody attacking Jerry Falwell, which the Supreme Court held to be protected against civil liability under the “intentional infliction of emotional distress tort,” would be a crime. Indeed, in this very case, the theory is that the videos are criminal because they described alleged police sexual misconduct using “lewd” or “indecent” words with the intent to torment or embarrass particular officers. (The theory expressed in the document — a search warrant application — is that the videos sufficiently identify the particular police officers who were involved in the incidents to which the video alludes.)
If the prosecutor is right that the statute should be interpreted this broadly, then it’s clearly unconstitutionally overbroad. Speech to the public doesn’t lose its constitutional protection because it’s intended to torment or embarrass. (It may lose such protection when it’s intended to be perceived as a true threat of criminal attack, but that’s not the issue here.) Nor does lose its constitutional protection because it uses “lewd” or “indecent” terms. And while one-to-one speech said to an unwilling listener may in some circumstances be restricted — which is the reason traditional telephone harassment laws, if properly crafted, may be constitutional — this rationale can’t be used to suppress speech said to the public, even if the people discussed in the speech are tormented or embarrassed by it.
Moreover, the statute would be clearly unconstitutional as applied to this video, and the prosecutor and the judge ought to know this. (The prosecutor is Renton Chief Prosecutor Shawn Arthur; the judge is James Cayce.) A search warrant can only be issued if there is probable cause to believe that it will uncover evidence of a crime; since the material described in the affidavit can’t be made criminal under the cited statute, given the First Amendment, the warrant ought not have been issued. The government is not permitted to use its coercive power to identify the author of this constitutionally protected video.
Thanks to Cory Andrews for the pointer. UPDATE: I originally said I didn’t know which judge signed this warrant, but that was a mistake on my part — Judge Cayce’s signature is right there on the last page.

yes… that sounds like Washington State… but it would be illegal for the same reasons for me to explain why I know this. Censorship is alive and well in the state of facebook. They will extradite people from outside their state to uphold their backward views on free expression. It happened to me too. The most amusing finding from out there is that a FOIA document can be published, but it is illegal to comment on it. I find it outrageous that people are not reacting to any of this… not just in Washington State, but in the rest of the country where the state seems to think they can cherry pick people out of their homes who offend the judicial in the social networking state.


French satirical paper ‘firebombed’ after cartoon

November 2, 2011

Gaelle Geoffroy | AFP
A screen shot shows the front page of the Charlie Hebdo website featuring a picture of the Mecca and a text praising the prophet Allah. The offices of Charlie Hebdo were destroyed by a petrol bomb attack, French police have saidEnlarge Photo
A screen shot shows the front page of the Charlie Hebdo website featuring a picture …
Charlie Hebdo’s publisher — known only as Charb — talks to reporters outside the the offices of the French satirical newspaper in Paris. The satirical newspaper that published a special Arab Spring edition with the Prophet Mohammed as “guest editor” were destroyed in a suspected firebomb attack, police have saidEnlarge Photo
Charlie Hebdo’s publisher — known only as Charb — talks to reporters outside the …
The offices of a French satirical newspaper that published a special Arab Spring edition with the Prophet Mohammed as “guest editor” were destroyed in a suspected firebomb attack Wednesday, police said.
Charlie Hebdo published a special edition Wednesday to mark the Arab Spring, renaming the weekly newspaper Charia (Sharia) Hebdo for the occasion and featuring a front-page cartoon of the prophet saying: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”

he newspaper’s website also appeared to have been hacked on Wednesday, with its regular home page replaced with a photo of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and a message reading: “No god but Allah”.
French officials were quick to denounce the attack and offer support to the newspaper.
“Freedom of the press is a sacred freedom in our country and everything must be done to preserve it,” Interior Minister Claude Gueant told AFP.
“This is why, whether we like Charlie Hebdo or not, every French person must this morning feel solidarity with a newspaper that, through its existence and the way it operates, expresses freedom of the press.”
Police said the fire at the newspaper’s offices started around 1:00 am (0200 GMT). No one was injured in the blaze, which a police source said was suspected to have been caused by a petrol bomb.
The magazine’s publisher, known only as Charb, said he was convinced the fire was linked to the special edition.
“On Twitter, on Facebook, we received several letters of protest, threats, insults,” which had been forwarded to the police, he said.
“Our problem now is to be able to put a paper out next Wednesday,” he said. “There is soot everywhere, the computers are in my opinion dead, the electrical system is melted.”
“This is the first time we have been physically attacked, but we won’t let it get to us.”
In a statement, the newspaper’s editorial department said it was “against all religious fundamentalism but not against practising Muslims.”
“We are for the Arab Spring, against the winter of fanatics,” it said.
The weekly had said it would publish a special edition to “celebrate” the Ennahda Islamist party’s election victory in Tunisia and the transitional Libyan executive’s announcement that Islamic Sharia law would be the country’s main source of law.
It would feature the prophet Mohammed as guest “editor”, the magazine said.
As well as the cover cartoon, a back-page drawing featured Mohammed wearing a red nose and accompanied by the words: “Yes, Islam is compatible with humour.”
The depiction of the prophet’s face is strictly prohibited in Islam.
Charb on Tuesday rejected accusations that he was trying to provoke.
“We feel we’re just doing our job as usual. The only difference is that this week, Mohammed is on the cover and that’s quite rare,” he told AFP.
A Paris court in 2007 threw out a suit brought by two Muslim organisations against Charlie Hebdo for reprinting cartoons of Mohammed that had appeared in a Danish newspaper, sparking angry protests by Muslims worldwide.
Pieces of paper and computers were strewn outside the newspaper’s offices in eastern Paris after the fire, an AFP reporter said, and windows and glass doors were broken at street level and on the first floor.
The head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Mohammed Moussaoui, condemned the attack.
“If this was a criminal fire, we firmly condemn it,” he told AFP.
Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said he was “disgusted” with the attack.
“I want to condemn in the strongest possible terms this act of violence that is also an act of violence against freedom of expression,” he told RMC radio.
“We can disagree with Charlie Hebdo’s edition today but we are in a society that needs freedom of expression,” Delanoe said.
The managing editor of left-leaning newspaper Liberation, Nicolas Demorand, said in a Tweet that his newspaper was inviting Charlie Hebdo’s writers to work in Liberation’s offices until they could find a new home.
Comment:

Religion of peace? Tolerance? Religion that adheres to Western values? So…?


#AliFerzat severely beaten by Assad’s thugs. #Syria h/t @AnonymousSyria

August 25, 2011
Ali Ferzat

Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat works in his atelier in Damascus, Syria on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011. (Muzaffar Salman – AP) When Ferzat was found by passersby on the capital’s airport road, his hands were the most badly injured, in a seeming attempt to silence his pen:

While support came in for Ferzat on Twitter, his own Facebook page, and a Facebook supporter page, the artist’s own Web site was suspended. It was unclear whether his page had been shut down or was overloaded by the number of people trying to find it.
pic.twitter.com/NhP8EQJIn the early hours of Thursday, masked men seized Ferzat from the street and forced him in to a van. A relative has said that Ferzat’s attackers targeted his hands, breaking them both, and told him it was “just a warning” before leaving him by the roadside with a bag over his head. Cartoonist @UKGuardian h/t AnonymousSyria

Superman threatens to renounce U.S. citizenship

April 29, 2011
A world that is too small
and too connected is in need of autonomy.
Not all of us are the Ubermench.
Even the illustrator seems to get that…
Superman is not wise here. 
His eyes light up,,, with an evil like white light. 
What does this mean from the editorial?

You can trust a publication on Comic Book characters before you can trust Reuters. The Reuters article claims “Conservatives” were taken aback by Superman giving up his U.S. citizenship, but the story had correlative truths that were not explored.

The Man of Steel, in the latest issue of Action Comics which hit newsstands on Wednesday, said he intends to renounce his U.S. citizenship in a speech before the United Nations.

Well, a lot of people are talking about the latest issue of Action Comics, where Superman announces that he intends to renounce his US citizenship. And that has a lot of folks up in arms, lambasting DC Comics as a bastion of anti-American radical liberalism and furious over this.
Well, as Wizbang’s only confessed comic book geek, I felt it was my duty to actually read the issue in question and give my “professional” opinion on the whole matter. And I gotta tell you, it ain’t that bad. I’d even say it was politically decent.
First up, I need to recap a key moment in Superman’s history. In 1986, DC Comics realized that Superman was running out of steam, so they turned the character over to certified genius (and certified arrogant prick) John Byrne, one of the most talented (and boy, does he know it) comic book artists (turned writer-artist) of the past few decades. Byrne “rebooted” the whole Superman franchise, starting him over literally from the very beginning — reducing his powers from the previous god-like levels, tying him closer to humanity, and in general making him far more accessible to readers.
In the process, Byrne made two fundamental changes to Superman’s history that have tremendous relevance to the current “Superman renounces his citizenship” storyline.
In the first, Kal-El did not travel from Krypton to Earth as an infant, to be found by the Kents in Kansas. Instead, Jor-El and Lara El took their fertilized embryo, placed it in a “matrix,” and launched that into space from the dying planet. That “matrix” carried the embryo to Earth, nurturing and developing the fetus until arrival — at which point it released it at the Kent’s touch. The Kents then presented the newborn infant as their own biological child — a conveniently nasty winter gave them the cover for an unannounced “pregnancy” and “home birth.” (The arrival of the baby Kal-El in the movies and in “Smallville” don’t apply here.)
So, stripped of all the technobabble, Kal-El was “born” in Kansas, which makes him an American citizen.
I’m not even certain Byrne knew what he was doing when he arranged for that little legal loophole to be closed, but simply thought it made a better story, but it’s done, and Superman is at least as American as, say, Barack Obama.
The second change was far more fundamental,and — in my eyes — a huge improvement on the character. For almost 50 years, it was made abundantly clear that, psychologically speaking, “Superman” was the “real” person and “Clark Kent” was the disguise, the carefully-constructed persona. Byrne inverted that. He noted that Superman didn’t emerge until his 20’s (at least), so it was rather improbable that that persona would supplant the one that had existed for a couple of decades. So, now, “Clark Kent” is the “real” person, while “Superman” is the disguise, the constructed persona.
Which is even more important in this context.
In the story in question, Superman is summoned to Camp David, where he is confronted by the president’s National Security Advisor. The NSA expresses the administration’s extreme irritation with Superman’s recent actions — outraged at the Iranian government’s violent oppression of protesters, he flew in and joined the dissidents. There, he simply stood there and allowed his presence to assert his solidarity with their cause — and his mere presence abated the violence for the duration.
The goernment of Iran, however, was not pleased, stating that Superman — as not only an American citizen, but as a licensed agent of the United States government (a special status some superheroes in the DC Comics universe hold) — had committed several acts of war against Iran, and the US was not happy to have to answer for his actions. At that point, Superman realized that he had, indeed, put the US in a very awkward position, and was likely to continue to do so in the future — so he declared that he would present himself before the United Nations and formally renounce his American citizenship.
In the context of this story, that action was anything but a liberal, anti-American gesture. Indeed, I’d argue it was a very pro-American move, and actually a rather conservative gesture.
One aspect of conservatism is individual freedom, coupled with individual responsibility. Here, Superman is taking responsibility for his actions in Iran, and choosing to give up something of tremendous value to him — his citizenship — to spare the US from being held accountable for hi actions. It’s not an angry rejection of the US and our ideals (despite his stating “Truth, justice, and the American way — it’s not enough anymore”), but a self-sacrifice for the good of the nation.
In another aspect, the whole storyline can be considered a rejection of the Obama administration’s handling of the protests in Iran. Superman didn’t fly to Bialya or Qurac (two fictional Mideastern nations based loosely on Libya and Iraq  that DC uses when it needs some Mideastern bad guys or storylines), he flew to Iraq — where he stood with the same Iranian protesters who President Obama refused to support or aid when they rose up against the Iranian tyrants. Superman did what President Obama refused to do — and then, when confronted by the administration’s representative, refused to submit himself to their judgment and instead removed himself from their authority. Well, their nominal authority — he’s Superman, remember?

Cartoon Rage: Denmark Goes Down, Bends Over

October 15, 2010


Back in 2005, Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen set the gold standard on defending free speech when, on being approached by perpetually aggrieved Islamic ambassadors hoping for official redress against Jyllands Posten (Cartoon Rage was just kicking in), he refused to hear their complaints, explaining to them and the world that it was not his place, as prime minister, to interfere with free speech in Denmark.

“This is a matter of principle. I will not meet with them [the ambassadors] because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so…As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press – nor do I want such power.”  (continue readingFree Speech, Then And Now/Brussels Journal)

Danish FM kowtows to Muslims on Motoons: “I would just like to make it clear that this was something we found very regrettable and didn’t wish to see it repeated”

Free Speech Death Watch Alert: “Danish FM meets top Muslim cleric to defuse cartoon tension,” by Samer al-Atrush for AFP, October 13:

Danish FM meets top Muslim cleric to defuse cartoon tension

Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen

CAIRO — Denmark’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that the hurt caused to Muslims from cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed was “very regrettable,” after she met Egypt’s top cleric to defuse tensions caused by the re-publication of the caricatures.

Lene Espersen said she and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, discussed “how to make sure that the great religions of the world can live peacefully side by side.”
The meeting followed the publication last last month of a book carrying the caricatures, entitled “The Tyranny of Silence.” (AFP)


Cartoonist Molly Norris

September 17, 2010

…has gone into hiding on the advice of the FBI after receiving death threats from Islamic extremist Anwar al-Awlaki…

In April, Norris published a drawing of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which is considered blasphemous by some Muslims.

The same cleric who issued fatwa for death of Seattle cartoonist has led #Muslim prayers for U.S. Congress staff.

When a report challenging our national security policy of ignoring Islamic supremacism through Islamic law was released during a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday (disclosure: I was one of the co-authors of the report, titled: “Shariah: The Threat to America”), among the chief critics were representatives from the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association (CMSA).
This group, which has been briefing both Democrat and Republican congressional leadership in recent months, claiming that there is nothing inherently violent in Islamic law, has a very poor history of embracing Islamic radicals — even al-Qaeda terrorists.
Immediately after 9/11, the CMSA began holding Friday afternoon prayer services on Capitol Hill. Who did they choose to lead them in their prayers? Al-Qaeda sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki, who is currently subject to a kill or capture order issued by President Obama. In fact, video of al-Awlaki preaching to the CMSA was included in the 2002 documentary, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet. (That video clip is available to view via the Investigative Project on Terrorism.)