Let’s take a look at this week in legal news.
OREGON LAND STANDOFF
The militia takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — located in a remote area 50 miles southeast of Burns, Oregon — has taken over the news cycle since outside militia members took over the wildlife refuge on January 1, 2016. Militia members from outside of Oregon initially joined protestors in Burns, OR to decry the prison sentences of locals Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, who were convicted of arson in 2012 for setting fire to public land next to their ranch. Federal appellate judges ruled that their initial – and already served – sentences were illegal, and ordered the two Hammonds back to prison for an additional term of four to five more years. Following the protest in Burns, non-local militia members seized the remote wildlife refuge, claiming their protest is larger than just the Hammonds – they say that their fight is against a tyrannical federal government and the unjust ownership and governance of public lands. The occupying militia wants the federally-owned land given to local ranchers, miners, and loggers for their own use. Members have committed to occupying the refuge for years, and even dying for the cause. Some of these same militia members gained infamy in a 2014 Nevada standoff over federal land, including Ammon Bundy. (For more details on the long history of clashes between the Bundy family and the federal government, see here). Thus far, no local militia members have joined the outsiders occupying the wildlife refuge. Local ranchers, law enforcement, and even the Hammonds themselves have denounced the occupation. The Bundy family’s own church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormons – issued a statement denouncing the occupation and the use of religious justification, calling on them to use peaceful means in accordance with law to resolve their disputes. On January 5th, Native American Burns Paiute Tribal Chair, Charlotte Rodrique, held a press conference stating that, “Armed protesters don’t belong here,”and that the militia members were desecrating sacred land and endangering local community. Nonetheless, Ammon Bundy and the band of militia members remain holed up in the wildlife refuge, calling on militia members across the country to join them in the hopes of creating a “base” for “patriots” to make a stand against the federal government. Click here to learn more about the history of this dispute.
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE LEGAL FOR EVERYONE … EXCEPT ALABAMANS?
Alabama’s State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is no stranger to controversy, fighting over the last two decades against the removal of a Ten Commandments plaque that he hung in his courtroom, and the ceasing of pre-session prayers. He has reentered the spotlight in his fight against same-sex marriage. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Chief Justice Roy Moore issued a ruling on January 7, 2016 instructing probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing “confusion” between the state and federal court rulings on the matter. Moore seems to be overlooking the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution which gives supremacy to federal law over state law. While many doubt that probate judges will follow the ruling by Moore, it remains to be seen how the legal battle will proceed. Read more about Moore here.
FACEBOOK VS USER PRIVACY
You have likely seen lengthy disclaimers posted by your Facebook friends declaring ownership of all of their Facebook postings and personal profile information, and denying Facebook any rights to their information. While those declarations aren’t actually legal, Facebook has been the subject of concern with privacy advocates for years. In 2011, a class action suit was brought challenging Facebook’s Sponsored Stories feature for publicizing underage users’ “likes” of advertisers without providing compensation or the option to opt out. A $20 million settlement was approved in 2013, but was appealed, and the case continued on. This week the U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the $20 million settlement. If you weren’t a part of the class action, you didn’t miss out on a huge payout for your data being used without your knowledge – payout per claimant is currently $15. Click here to read more about this case.
ROSA PARKS’ IMAGE GOES COMMERCIAL
When you think about the department store giant Target you probably don’t think of Rosa Parks and other images from the Civil Rights Movement. Nonetheless, Target is seeking to sell Civil Rights Era-themed items featuring Rosa Parks’ likeness. The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development (RRPI) was none too pleased with this, and brought suit against Target in the state of Michigan, arguing that it is unlawful to sell someone’s likeness without first obtaining permission. This week the Eleventh Circuit Court affirmed a dismissal by a lower Federal Court in favor of Target, who argued that Parks’ image falls in the category of public interest. Read more here.
Does a monkey own the copyright to his own accidental selfie? A case currently being heard in the Northern District of California is exploring this unusual legal question.
During his visit to the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, nature photographer, David Slater, got more candid photos of animals than he planned. A curious crested macaque named Naruto used Slater’s camera to shoot several photos, including selfies of himself. A book was published with the photos taken by Naruto, and a dispute began concerning who actually owned the copyright to the photos. Animal rights advocates stepped forward to argue ownership rights on behalf of Naruto, and a case ensued between PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and Slater’s company, Wildlife Personalities Ltd. PETA argued that a ruling against Naruto’s ownership of the photos could impact future copyright cases involving artificial intelligence. Will the monkey rule the day? Read more about the case here.
NOTE TO SELF – A GRENADE IS A BAD GAG GIFT
Newly elected Beaver, PA Sheriff Tony Guy was given an explosive welcome from a well-meaning, but poorly reasoned local resident. The Beaver, PA’s county courthouse was evacuated on January 7, 2016 when an incoming package was X-rayed and revealed a grenade. Once opened, they discovered that the package contained a novelty item – a grenade attached to a plaque with a sign that reads, “Complaint department. Take a number,” with a numbered plastic ticked attached to the pin. Detectives quickly tracked down the sender, who told authorities that he was simply a fan of Guy and sent the gift as a welcome to the new sheriff. While the local district attorney has opted not to press charges, he issued a warning, stating that, “Just because this is legal does not mean it’s smart,” he said.