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Supreme Court May Re-examine What Is "Indecent"
Topics | 2008/03/04 03:21

This week, after more than 30 years, the Supreme Court may reopen the debate over what constitutes an "indecent" broadcast. The issue before the court is the usually accidental, so-called "fleeting expletive" that sneaks into an over-the-air broadcast, such as Bono's "This is really, really f---ing brilliant" comment at the 2003 Golden Globes, which was broadcast on NBC.

After receiving complaints from viewers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved to crack down on broadcasters who air "isolated or fleeting expletives" during daytime and early evening hours. Last year, Fox and other television networks sued to block the new policy, and an appeals court in New York put it on hold. Now, the FCC is asking the Supreme court to clear the way for the crackdown to be enforced. The justices may act on the agency's appeal as soon as today, and if they vote to hear FCC vs. Fox TV, arguments will be heard in the fall, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The appellate judges in New York felt that the FCC's new policy was arbitrary and vague, as it does not specify that all expletives will trigger fines regardless of the circumstances. At the same time, the appellate judges hinted that a true ban on all broadcast expletives would violate the 1st Amendment's free-speech guarantee. At the same time, broadcasters have said they have no desire to air expletives, but they're just trying to make sure that when an unscripted expletive is used - most often by a celebrity who is not a network employee - it does not result in a large fine. To help monitor the situation, broadcasters have instituted five-second delays on awards shows and some other live programming, but an occasional expletive can still slip through.

"It's like the Maytag repairman," said Rick Cotton, general counsel for NBC Universal, according to the LA Times. "You're expecting that after sitting in front of a console for literally thousands of hours that at a particular moment, on a completely unexpected basis, a person will hear it and will react in time."



Court may opt to pay fees from Bible suit
Topics | 2008/03/03 19:28

Harris County Commissioners Court will decide today whether it will pay about $400,000 in legal fees to a woman who sued to have a Bible removed from a monument near the downtown civil courthouse.

All but about $40,000 in fees were incurred after the county appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Harris County officials have been poor stewards of taxpayers' money," said Randall Kallinen, lawyer for Kay Staley, a real estate agent and lawyer who sued to have the Bible removed. "They knew displaying the Bible was unconstitutional, and they continued fighting for political reasons."

County Attorney Mike Stafford said the county appealed the case because officials believed that there was a constitutional question about whether a Bible could be part of a display honoring a person.

"You can't just look at what the trial court does and give up," he said.

The court is scheduled to discuss possible payment of the legal fees in executive session.

In 1956, the county gave Star of Hope mission permission to erect the monument with a Bible displayed in it to honor a key benefactor, William Mosher. The monument was near the entrance of the then-Civil Courts Building on Fannin.

Four years ago, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake ruled that the display violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which prohibits governments from endorsing or inhibiting a religion. Lake ruled the display promoted Christianity, and the Bible was taken out.

The case could have ended a year ago when the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the case moot after the county moved the monument while the Civil Courts Building was restored. But the county appealed to the Supreme Court.



eBay Settles Patent Dispute With MercExchange
Topics | 2008/02/28 19:17

eBay has agreed to settle a patent dispute with MercExchange. The online auction company told investors Thursday it would buy MercExchange's patents and MercExchange would dismiss all claims and appeals regarding a lawsuit it filed seven years ago.

"We're pleased to have been able to reach a settlement with MercExchange," Mike Jacobson, eBay senior VP and general counsel, said in a prepared statement. "In addition to resolving the litigation, this settlement gives us access to additional intellectual property that will help improve and further secure our marketplaces."

MercExchange claimed credit for eBay's fixed price auction options through eBay's "Buy It Now" feature, saying the online auction infringed on three of its patents. According to records from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, MercExchange filed for the patents in 1995, 1999, and 2001.

eBay tried to fight a judgment that would have cost the company about $30 million. The case went up and back down the U.S. court system. In December of 2007, a U.S. District Court ruling concluded in December that the court lacked authority to consider eBay's motion for summary judgment.

eBay claimed then that it did not infringe on MercExchange's '265 patents and that it owed no damages.

eBay said it will buy three patents, related technology and inventions, as well as a license to a search patent portfolio that is separate from the lawsuit.

The companies did not disclose other settlement terms, which eBay said are confidential. eBay said the settlement should not affect its 2007 results or 2008 financial guidance from January's fourth quarter earnings release.



Court Denies Altria Motions To Dimiss Claims
Topics | 2008/02/27 21:57

The law firm of Broach & Stulberg LLP said the U.S. District Court denied Altria Group Inc.'s (MO) motions to dismiss an age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by a former Swiss-based employee against Altria and Philip Morris International Inc.

The motions sought to dismiss the claims on the ground that the U.S. court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the plaintiff, D'Arcy Quinn, was employed by a "foreign" employer not subject to the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Judge Laura Taylor Swain ruled that Altria "failed to raise a meritorious issue as to lack of subject matter jurisdiction."

The suit alleges that firing, hirings and promotions within Philip Morris illegally considered ages of candidates and employees.

The suit was filed in October in the U.S. District Court for the Southern district of New York on behalf Quinn, a former Philip Morris brand integrity director who served as in-house counsel for international anti-counterfeiting and anti-smuggling matters.

An Altria spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment.



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