Ellyn Angelotti

Since joining The Poynter Institute in 2007, Ellyn Angelotti has helped Poynter explore the journalistic values and the legal challenges related to new technologies, especially social media. She also has helped create and develop Poynter’s use of interactive teaching tools like online chats and podcasts. Her current work is focused on the intersection of journalism, technology and the law. She recently received her Juris Doctorate from Stetson University College of Law where she was also awarded the Judge Raphael Steindhardt award for character and leadership. Angelotti, who is a member of the Florida Bar, practiced law at Rahdert, Steele, Reynolds & Driscoll, P.L. Angelotti regularly teaches journalists how to effectively use interactive tools as storytelling vehicles, and how using these tools changes the media landscape. In the summer of 2009 she traveled to South Africa to teach and research mobile storytelling. As a judge for national multimedia journalism contests, including the National Press Photographers Association Awards and E.W. Scripps National Journalism Awards, she has studied and taught about best practices in innovative storytelling. Before coming to Poynter, Angelotti directed award-winning, nontraditional multimedia sports content at the Naples Daily News in Florida. There she created and produced two interactive vodcasts, “PrepZone” and “Blades Playbook,” which won the Newspaper Association of America’s Digital Edge Award for Most Innovative Multimedia Storytelling. While attending the University of Kansas, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and journalism, she worked at the Lawrence Journal-World as multimedia journalist. There she helped launch two award-winning websites and weekly print products, “Game” and “The Lansing Current.”


Police Shooting-Missouri

During protests, police may balance journalists’ rights with public safety

Without being at the scene of the arrests it is difficult to say if anyone did anything illegal last night when two reporters were detained at a McDonald’s in Ferguson, Missouri. The reporters were covering the protests and riots that broke out after an 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown was fatally shot by police there.

The tension here lies with allowing the police to do what they need to do to protect public safety and conduct a complete investigation and balancing that with journalists’ right to report.

The police can regulate the time, place and manner of speech to a certain degree as long as it is not a content-based regulation. Meaning, they can clear an area of everyone if they think they need to do that to keep the peace, but they can’t single out a journalist and tell him he cannot be there.

The First Amendment provides safeguards that allow people to gather and disseminate information about government officials. A question to consider in this instance is: Why did the police arrest the reporters? Were the police trying to control the scene or to stop the journalists from doing their jobs?

A journalist has the same rights as the general public to access public property. And, generally, it is legal to record video of people where they would reasonably expect to be seen. However, journalists are not granted special rights to disobey police orders, nor are they allowed to interfere with police work.

Journalists have potential recourse if they believe they are unlawfully arrested. If journalists can prove that they were specifically detained because they were covering news, not just because they were suspected of breaking the law, they can potentially bring a civil claim against a police officer for unlawfully interfering with news gathering.

When journalists are covering demonstrations or public events, they should at all times carry a press credential and government-issued identification (like a driver’s license or a passport) to make it visible that they are members of the media. Also, they should carry money or a credit card to post bond, if necessary.

If a journalist is arrested, he should let the officer know that he is a member of the media and let the supervising officer be notified that a reporter is being detained. The arrested journalist should ask to contact his or her organization’s lawyer.

When reporting in a private property, like a McDonald’s, to minimize risk you should seek consent from the property owner. If you are asked to leave private property, you can explain why you believe you should be able to stay on the property. However, you can be charged with trespassing if you remain on the property and the owner or government officials determine that you do not have a right to be there.

Related: News University Course on Newsgathering Law & Liability: A Guide for Reporting

Related: How journalists can protect themselves & the news they’ve gathered if arrested on the job Read more

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Takeaways from the Al Jazeera Forum

While journalists in the United States have to worry about Tweeting out misinformation, journalists in the Arab world have to worry about their Tweets getting them thrown into jail.

At Al Jazeera’s Eighth Annual Forum in Doha, Qatar last month, 700 media and political leaders gathered to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the media. Meanwhile, the trial of three Al Jazeera journalists, who have since been sentenced to serve jail time in Egypt came up frequently in the conversations.

A display at the entrance of the Al Jazeera Arabic newsroom features staff members showing their support for three Al Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt.

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Who owns your Twitter followers?

This is the latest in a series of articles by The Poynter Institute and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on legal issues affecting journalists. Poynter’s Ellyn Angelotti is an attorney and teaches social media issues.

Social media regularly blurs lines when it comes to journalists’ personal and professional lives. We often post pictures of our pets and children alongside posts related to our work. One unintended consequence is this can create ambiguity about who ultimately owns your Twitter account.

Organizations and brands seek employees who can effectively build an audience using social media. However, once an employee builds a healthy community of followers and then leaves the organization, who do the followers belong to?

Some instances are clearer than others.

Journalists who create an account associated with a beat and then exit the organization often leave their account and start a new one.

However, when Jim Roberts, who was the assistant managing editor of The New York Times at the time, accepted a buyout last year, he took his 75,000 followers with him. He tweeted from his (then) handle @nytjim, “My feed is my own.”

After leaving, he revised his handle, @nycjim, which endured his stint as executive editor at Reuters. Now as the executive editor and chief content officer at Mashable, his base has grown to 134,000 followers.

Legal issues of ownership are still in their infancy.

PhoneDog v. Noah Kravitz is the most notable case involving Twitter followers. Kravitz, an employee for the technology news and review site PhoneDog created the account @PhoneDog_Noah to post updates about his work. He built an audience of 17,000 Twitter followers. When he left the company, he changed his Twitter handle to @noahkravitz and took his followers with him. PhoneDog sued him for misappropriation of trade secrets, among other related issues.

The case settled out of court in 2012 for undisclosed terms and Kravitz kept the account. While PhoneDog provided little direction on ownership of Twitter followers, the discussion on this issue helps to identify several factors that the courts would likely examine to determine ownership of a social media account, including:

  • Who initiated the creation of the account?
  • Who directs and creates the content?
  • Did the employee have the account before taking the job, or create it because of the job?
  • Who has access to the passwords?
  • Is the account associated with the brand or the employee?

So journalists or employers can better protect their interests by showing their involvement in the account has been significant. But experts have suggestions for resolving Twitter account disputes before they end up in court.

Jasmine McNealy, an attorney and assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, recently published a law review article, “Who owns your friends?: PhoneDog v. Kravitz and business claims of trade secret in social media information.” McNealy explores the ownership of Twitter followers and offers useful suggestions for how businesses can avoid conflicts in this area by creating non-disclosure agreements, assigning the rights to social media content created, and encouraging employees to maintain separate personal and professional accounts.

Twitter followers are now valued as work capital, McNealy said. Some job candidates are hired based on their existing social media following. So it is important for both employers and employees to discuss the areas of potential dispute and work them out before disputes arise. Here are some suggestions:

  • Seek Clarity — When you take a job or when you create a potentially work-based social media account, have a conversation with your boss about your work on social media. Is that work part of your role with the company and therefore property of the company? Or, does your boss see your work on social media as outside of the scope of your employment. Come to an agreement regarding who owns the followers. This conversation will help you and your boss arrive at rational decisions at the outset rather than later when emotions may be running high.
  • Put it in writing – If you lead an organization or manage employees who use social media, create a social media policy that addresses specific questions about social media use. Update this document regularly to accommodate the changing technologies and remind everyone of the agreed upon expectations.

Even if you are not a manager, if you happen to be somewhat social media savvy, ask your boss if you can help draft an agreement that more clearly indicates who has ownership of you and your colleagues’ social media following. This could be an opportunity for you to help your organization understand the technology and the issues involved.

  • Strategically separate accounts — Maintaining separate personal and professional accounts may seem counterintuitive to the nature of social media. McNealy suggests a fundamental question to ask yourself if you have an account you use both professionally and personally — “why are people following you?” Is it because they want to engage with you personally, or because you represent an extension of the brand or company you work for?

This could be an opportunity to segment your social media audiences more effectively. If people follow you because you represent your company, consider creating an account that is more focused on that aspect of your work. You can still find a way to interject your own voice into your work-related tweets, and potentially feel less awkward about posting selfies with your friends.

  • Be Smart — McNealy said she tells her students not to censor themselves, but to keep in mind there are sometimes consequences for what they say on social media. “The First Amendment doesn’t necessarily protect you from getting fired for not representing your company in a way that they’d like you to,” she said. Remember Justine Sacco who was fired as a result of an offensive tweet she sent just before departing on a flight to Africa?

Unfortunately, we don’t really know how the courts are going to apply laws related to trade secrets, privacy and intellectual property to the issues we may encounter regarding our social media followings.

However, we can create some clarity and ground rules to help us avoid legal land mines in this area.

Related: Hyperlinking could help journalists in defamation lawsuits | How to use FOIA laws to find stories, deepen sourcing Read more

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Who owns Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar selfie?

When Ellen DeGeneres granted the Associated Press a license to use the now famous selfie from the Oscars, a debate erupted in the Twitter community. Why did AP need a license for an image that had been retweeted a record-setting 3 million times?

The reason is the legal ownership of a tweeted photo isn’t cut and dried.

Who owns the copyright to this image?

Actually, Bradley Cooper has a strong case to claim he’s the copyright holder. Typically, the photographer owns the copyright to the image. However, DeGeneres could argue that since she uploaded the image to Twitter, she is the copyright owner. It would be interesting to see what would happen in a hypothetical Cooper v. DeGeneres case.

Who owns the copyright to social media content?

It depends on the social networks — specifically the network’s Terms of Service, which all users must agree to when they sign up to use the site.

Twitter’s Terms of Service clearly state that Twitter users hold the copyright to the content they create:

“You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services.”

Twitter users authorize Twitter (and its authorized partners) to use the content they create within the Twitter platform which extends to content that is shared via Twitter’s APIs. This is not to say that you grant Twitter a broad usage license for your content. The TOS provides for specific parameters and reinforces that users own their own content, stating:

“But what’s yours is yours – you own your Content (and your photos are part of that Content).”

Do news organizations need permission to use social media content?

According to last year’s case Agence France-Presse v. Morel, the answer is yes. Photographer Daniel Morel captured some of the first images of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and posted the images to TwitPic. A Twitter user reposted the images as his own and these images ended up on the front pages of publications all over the world. A federal judge awarded the photographer $1.22 million dollars for copyright violation.

The rule we learned from this case is that when you take social media content out of its native platform, you should ask the content creator for permission.

But it was public!

From AFP v. Morel, we also learned that a photographer does not give up his or her copyright to an image by posting it publicly on social media.

Despite the fact that the selfie is the most retweeted image in the history of Twitter, DeGeneres, as the content creator, still likely holds the copyright to image. I say likely because Cooper, as the actual photographer, could argue he is entitled to the copyright to the image since he was the original content creator.

What about the phone she used?

Some debated whether the phone on which she (or rather Bradley Cooper) captured the record-setting selfie was a Samsung or an iPhone. Apparently while DeGeneres toted the sponsored Samsung on stage, she used her iPhone backstage and reportedly lost her iPhone, with the selfie on it.

If she would have captured the image with the Samsung, which could have been the case since Samsung was promoting selfies, she may have had an agreement with Samsung about who held the copyright to the images.

However, without an agreement, the phone she used likely would have little effect on the copyright since the copyright belongs to the original creator.

What could happen if I use content I find online?

If you share the content within its original platform (e.g. retweet an image within Twitter), then you are within the bounds of use. Twitter provides tools that let you embed tweets on your site, which also is legal. It gets a little more dicey when you take content out of its natural environment (e.g. taking a screen grab or downloading an image you find on Twitter to use on your website).

Obviously, you can try to use fair use as a defense if the original creator were to sue you for copyright. However, if fair use is not a viable defense, the repercussions could be severe. Willful copyright infringement can result in damages ranging from $30,000 to $150,000 per infringement. Imagine what the damages would be if an image was illegally used.

Now that everyone is a publisher, we all have a responsibility to understand the basics of copyright. And given the proliferation of social media sites, and their frequently changing TOS, we should all be aware of the ground rules for the sites we use when we click that little box.

Related training: Social media and the law Read more

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U.S. appeals court orders YouTube take down anti-Muslim film

Associated Press | Reuters | EFF

In Wednesday’s decision on Garcia v. Google Inc., a three-judge panel for the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered YouTube to remove the video “Innocence of Muslims” from its platform. It also reinstated Cindy Lee Garcia’s copyright lawsuit against Google.

The 2012 video, created by filmmaker Mark Basseley Youssef, led to riots and deaths throughout the Middle East. The 13-minute film depicts the Prophet Mohammed as a “fool and a sexual deviant.”

President Obama and other world leaders had asked YouTube to take down the video, but YouTube resisted due to “unwarranted government censorship” that “would violate the Google-owned company’s free speech protections.” Read more

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Poynter at SXSW: The ins and outs of Twibel

Editor’s Note: Poynter will be at South by Southwest, the annual music, movie and interactive festival, March 7-16, in Austin, Texas. Look for our Poynter faculty members, Roy Peter Clark, Ellyn Angelotti and Kelly McBride, and digital media reporter Sam Kirkland. Here is the second in a series of posts on what we’ll be doing at SXSW.

Tweets can form the basis of a defamation lawsuit the same as if they were published in another form. However, though Twitter has been around since March 2006, the first defamation trial involving the service wasn’t decided until earlier this year — almost eight years after Twitter’s debut. 

Does that mean the Twittersphere has been immune from libelous content? Unfortunately, no.

The informal nature of social-media conversations makes Twitter a ripe environment for spreading potential falsehoods, resulting in plenty of opportunities for defamation claims.

Defamation is divided into libel (print) and slander (non-fixed medium), but both have essentially the same elements:

1. The statement is published.

2. The statement is false.

3. A reasonable person would have known it was false.

4. The statement caused harm (depending on the jurisdiction, harm may be presumed).

Because a proper defamation claim must involve a false statement, truth is always a defense against any defamation action.

It’s true that many defamation claims have resulted in lawsuits and been settled out of court, a path familiar to traditional defamation law. But when everyone is a publisher, is litigation still the best remedy? 

In a core conversation at SXSW, “Twibel: Fight Bad Speech with More Speech,” I’ll join Stetson University law professor Catherine Cameron to discuss the basics of defamation law and the issues with applying defamation law to Twitter. Then we’ll collaborate with the group to develop prospective (non-legal based) remedies that might achieve the same goals that defamation law has sought to balance: encouraging free speech while helping protect the reputations of others.

We will explain some of the exceptions to defamation, including hyperbole, parody and opinion — and discuss how the norms of Twitter might be relevant to these exceptions. For example, when a false statement is made as part of an obvious parody or joke, no reasonable observer would consider it to be a factual statement, and so the publisher wouldn’t be liable. Given the informal nature of Twitter, would most tweets fall under these exceptions?

Another legal distinction exists for public figures, who generally need to prove a publisher acted with actual malice — meaning that the author knew the statement was false (or should have known) but published it anyway. Celebrities and public officials are clearly public figures. Others involved in high-profile crimes could be considered involuntary public figures, and those who create a public controversy could be considered limited public figures. Would an otherwise private person who has a following of 100,000 Twitter followers be considered a public figure?

We now need to consider classifying online users and their speech in new ways that have yet to be clarified.

Twibel needs an adaptable remedy that encourages civil discourse among users and deters defamatory speech on Twitter. Given the complexities of the changing media landscape, are there existing remedies that are more in line with the values of the social-media environment by being fast, flexible and free?

And what better place than SXSW Interactive to dream up potential remedies to Twibel, taking advantage of the most-creative minds in technology?

We’ll bring the law; you bring some ideas! 

Please join us on Monday, March 10, at 4:30 pm ET (3:30 pm CT), at SXSW in Austin, Texas, or by following the hashtag #twibel on Twitter, of course.

Related: Poynter at SXSW: Welcome back to the WED dance Read more

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What the DOJ’s new guidelines mean for journalists

The U.S. Department of Justice’s new revised guidelines tightening government access to journalists’ records officially take effect this week. Yet the protections are not absolute, leaving some important exceptions in the hands of the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder to circumvent the safeguards, particularly when it comes to classified information deemed potentially harmful.

The guidelines specifically aim to shield journalists from “certain law enforcement tools,” the department noted, including subpoenas, court orders and search warrants that “might unreasonably impair ordinary newsgathering activities.” Read more

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Lebanese journalists and activists use tape to cover their mouths as they hold placards to show their solidarity with detained journalists by Egyptian authorities during a sit-in protest in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. In January, Egypt's chief prosecutor referred 20 journalists, including four foreigners from the Al Jazeera TV network, to trial on charges of allegedly joining or assisting a terrorist group and spreading false news that endangers national security. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Journalists in Egypt plead not guilty to terrorist charges, trial postponed

Bloomberg | Al-Jazeera | BBC

A Cairo court on Thursday postponed the trial of Al-Jazeera journalists who are facing accusations of aiding Egyptians belonging to “a terrorist organization.”

Eight journalists including, Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohammed, appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the charges that include aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and endangering national security. Read more

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Some wooden cubes forming the word law, in front of a gavel. Digital illustration. (Depositphotos)

Who’s a journalist and other digital issues: media lawyers weigh in on #wjchat

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Cover of "Secrets to Prize-Winning Journalism" (The Poynter Institute)

Learning from prize-winning journalism: tips for executing an investigative journalism project

In Poynter’s new e-book, “Secrets of Prize-Winning Journalism,” we highlight and examine 10 award-winning works from 2013 through interviews with their creators. Starting with the “secrets” shared by reporters and editors, we’ve extracted some great lessons on producing outstanding journalism.

In the first installment, we explored lessons for covering breaking news stories based on The Denver Post’s coverage of the Aurora theater shootings.

In this our second installment, we share tips for executing an investigative journalism project based on the Chicago Tribune series “Playing with Fire,” which earned a Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, Scripps Howard Foundation Award for Public Service Reporting, Hillman Prize for Newspaper Journalism, Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Newspapers, National Headliner Award, Gerald Loeb Award, and Pulitzer Prize finalist honor.

Tribune reporters Patricia Callahan, Sam Roe and Michael Hawthorne spent two years researching and writing the expose on the dangers and ineffectiveness of flame retardants used in household furniture, including baby cribs.

Poynter affiliate faculty member Chip Scanlan interviewed the investigative team via email to deconstruct their research and the reporting techniques they used to create the prize-winning series.

Use records to backup interviews

Callahan viewed each record in the Tribune investigation as a puzzle piece that made little sense on its own. It was the writers’ job to expose the real story. She said one sentence in “Playing with Fire” took months of reporting.

Roe told Scanlan: “Documents help you establish what’s true and what’s not.”

His colleague, Hawthorne depends on FOIA requests because they illuminate “what officials actually think, not what has been sanitized by public affairs staffers and political appointees.”

Tip: When a source makes a statement based on a fact, ask for the data or evidence he or she has to back it up. Verify the accuracy of statements and records with data from multiple sources. When working with government agencies, request public information with FOIA requests.

Interview sources in person whenever possible

Investigations need to present findings in a compelling way. In “Playing with Fire,” Callahan, Hawthorne and Roe were blessed with interesting characters who helped them flesh out a narrative of how flame retardants wound up in the bodies of every American.

For example, Callahan found value in flying to California to attend a hearing in person, rather than watching it from afar, to capture essential details about the characters driving the strong narrative thread.

“Had I simply watched a video of the hearing, I would not have picked up on the sway that [the subject] held. On tape, you can’t hear the audience’s gasp,” said Callahan.

Tip: While it is not always possible to interview someone in person, tools like Skype let you see your sources and pick up on their body language and expressions. This results in a more authentic engagement that can lead the interview down an unexpected path and illuminate critical details. An in-person interview is better than a video interview; a video interview is better than a phone interview; a phone interview is better than an email interview.

Strong interviewing skills are critical

Roe stressed the importance of the interview. “Stories often rise and fall on the ability of the reporter to go toe to toe with the subjects on their investigations,” he said in an interview with Chip Scanlan for the e-book, “Secrets of Prize-winning Journalism.”

Tip: Callahan told Scanlan that she usually ends her interviews with an open-ended question, “What should I have asked you but didn’t?”

Recognize the impact your story has on the community

Callahan said “Playing with Fire” inspired substantive reform. As a result of the series, California no longer requires flame retardants in furniture and many baby products — for the first time since 1975. Also, the EPA launched an investigation of the chemicals highlighted in the series. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said it would test babies’ exposure to flame retardants from crib mattresses.

A key U.S. Senate committee voted to overhaul the nation’s chemical safety law. Because of the tougher regulatory climate, the two largest manufacturers of chlorinated tris, the family of fire retardant chemicals found in baby mattresses, ­vowed to end production.

Tip: After you publish, continue to follow the story. Stay in touch with sources: What changes have they noticed as a result of your work? In addition to indicating the impact you made, the source may continue to provide information you could use in a follow-up story.

Related: Learning from prize-winning journalism: how to cover a breaking news story
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