But the First Amendment Protects That, Doesn’t It?

As many of you know, I am currently enrolled in the Master of Business Communication program at the University of St. Thomas here in MN. One of the required classes is Communication Law. As an undergrad Journalism/Mass Communication student at St. Bonaventure University (NY), I had to take a similar course called Media Law. At least I thought there were going to be similar. That class was mainly about historical cases (I mean historical, as in Brown v. Board of Education) that played a part in shaping journalism as a whole. This class is more about how communication law stands today and some of the more popular cases that have shaped it.

The moral of this story is that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know that the First Amendment is in fact, not absolute protection when it comes to free speech. It’s actually fairly narrow and limited. We’re learning about Intellectual Property rights and trademarks and defamation (don’t look at someone cross-eyed!). Interestingly enough, we learned that the “McDonalds Coffee Case” was not fully reported and the media handled it irresponsibly in the interest of having a sensational story. The woman at the center of it had 3rd degree burns that required extensive surgery and just asked McD to pay her $10k in medical bills and they offered her $800.

My advice for all of the media people out there? Educate yourself on what you can and can’t do and what you can and can’t say. Know your rights as a communicator and know the public’s rights in relation to that. Here are some resources to get you started.

Federal Communications Law Journal

Media Law Resource Center

Journalism Resources through the University of Iowa

Legal Information Institute- Cornell University

Intellectual Property Law Resources

United States Patent and Trademark Office

And for those who need a refresher on the US Bill of Rights:

Legal Information Institute-Bill of Rights

One final note: If you are a freelance or contract worker and are asked to sign a non-compete agreement, you may want to consider speaking with an attorney prior to doing so to ensure your right to earn a living is not infringed upon if you decide to part ways with that organization.

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2 Responses to “But the First Amendment Protects That, Doesn’t It?”
  1. 07.16.2010

    Hey Michelle,

    This is really such an under-discussed topic. Most people, including myself have no idea what we do not know, and that is where the danger really is. I will have to check out some of the links you have and get better acquainted with my rights — the do’s and don’t.

    • Michelle Krasniak

      Hi Kimberly-

      Thanks for the comment! I totally agree it’s an under-discussed topic. As the professor put it, our Constitution is “a living, breathing document” that is changing constantly. This is especially true with the emergence of social media. The courts haven’t even begun to touch on all of the issues that have arisen because of the creation of the internet alone. It’ll be interesting to see how everything evolves. :)

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