Bloggers Have Rights Too, EFF Says | Courthouse News Service
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Bloggers Have Rights Too, EFF Says

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - So-called "politically motivated" copyright claims over the use of a California attorney's 5-year-old head shot are bogus, a digital rights group claims in an amicus brief.

The Electronic Frontiers Foundation asked the Federal Court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by California Republican Party Vice Chairman Harmeet Dhillon, who sued an anonymous blogger and others over use of Dhillon's campaign photo in a post on The Munger Games.

The website - which criticizes Charles Munger Jr., Santa Clara County Republican Party of Silicon Valley chairman - was launched in 2013, and has been called "bigoted" by at least one conservative critic.

Anonymous bloggers who run the site call Munger Jr. a "super-wealthy, bow-tied, liberal," and Dhillon "an ACLU-affiliated attorney who doubles as the vice chair of the California Republican Party."

The photo in question was from a failed Assembly race in 2008.

Dhillon asked for $250 in damages for copyright infringement, and subpoenaed Dreamhost in search of the unidentified blogger and nine Doe defendants.

A post on "The Munger Games" called Dhillon's claim "silly." The headshot, as originally posted, did not appear on the site, checked Tuesday.

San Francisco-based Electronic Frontiers Foundation said in a statement: "Use of the photo is clearly allowed under the 'fair use doctrine,' which ensures that copyrighted works can be used by others for purposes including criticism and commentary."

EFF intellectual property director Corynne McSherry called Dhillon's lawsuit a "bald attempt to intimidate a political blogger."

"The fair use doctrine protects what Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert do with copyrighted material every night - they use it to illustrate, explain, and amuse," McSherry said in the statement. "Fair use is a basic building block for free speech, and the Munger Games blogger has as much right to fair use as a TV star.

"This lawsuit is not about copyright infringement but simply a bald attempt to intimidate a political blogger, and the court should shut it down now."

Matt Zimmerman, EFF senior staff attorney, said allowing the lawsuit to proceed will discourage other bloggers from exercising their First Amendment rights.

"Protection for political criticism and commentary lies at the heart of the First Amendment," Zimmerman said. "Courts should be highly skeptical of attempts to punish speakers engaged in this kind of political speech. While the blogger in this case is fighting back, copyright lawsuits are expensive and others may be intimidated from speaking in the future. EFF urges the court to dismiss this meritless suit as soon as possible."

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