Legal Issues

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Art Vs. Vandalism: LA’s Unsanctioned Mural Debate

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Legal Issues

Saber, Graffiti Artist, Fights To Lift Mural Ban In LA
by Andrew Reilly
Huffington Post
October 14, 2011

For the artist Saber, participation in the democratic process has always been complicated. He’s an international graffiti legend, holding the world record for the largest graffiti piece, done along the LA river in 1997. Despite its place in the history books, the city of Los Angeles spent a whopping $837,000 to paint over it in 2009. Now Saber is approaching public art laws from a different angle, spearheading an effort to reform Los Angeles’ mural policies.

At the moment, LA’s regulations don’t begin to reflect the city’s vibrant public art culture; uncommissioned murals are banned outright, even if the mural is painted on private property with the consent of the owner. Violators are subject to serious punishment, as was the case with prominent LA artist Revok, who received 180 days jail time over various vandalism charges. (more…)

Universal Studios Promotes Movie with Fake News Articles

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues

Studio settlement reported for fake movie news
November 12, 2009

the-fourth-kind-movie-200Fairbanks, Alaska (AP) — Universal Pictures has agreed to pay $20,000 to the Alaska Press Club to settle complaints about fake news archives used to promote the movie “The Fourth Kind,” the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The Anchorage lawyer who negotiated the settlement for the Fairbanks paper and six other media outlets, John McKay, said the fake online stories undermined the credibility of the news organizations.

Universal created a series of fabricated online news articles to publicize the movie about a purported plague of alien abductions in Nome a decade ago. The articles posted appeared to be from real Alaska publications.

The articles included a fake obituary and news story about the death of a character in the movie, Dr. William Tyler, that supposedly were from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. (more…)

Vietnam’s Fake Art Legacy

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Legal Issues

A Legacy of War: Fake Art in Vietnam
by Seth Mydans
The New York Times
July 31, 2009

Hanoi, Vietnam — Even the director of the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum here doesn’t know how many of the artworks and artifacts under his care are genuine and how many are extremely skillful copies. But he says he is going to try to find out.


There are nearly 20,000 of these mystery objects, on the walls and in storage, including paintings, sculpture, lacquerware, pottery, ancient statues and traditional crafts.

“We are making efforts to have a comprehensive review of items on display and in our warehouse,” said the director, Truong Quoc Binh. “After we evaluate the whole exhibit, we will try to label them all to show if they are original or not.” (more…)

FBI Probes PrankNET Over Hotel Pranks

Filed under: Legal Issues, Phone Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief

Submitted by W.J. Elvin III:

FBI probes PrankNET over thousands of dollars in damage caused to hotels and restaurants
by Tom Leonard
15 July 2009

The FBI is investigating an anonymous prank-calling internet group which has reportedly duped people into causing thousands of dollars of damage to hotels and restaurants.

0_1443529c-200Some former fans of PrankNET have expressed misgivings about the increasingly violent nature of the pranks

PrankNET posts its “greatest hits” on YouTube and streams its calls live on internet radio.

Investigators say its creators are difficult to identify due to the diffficulty of tracing prank calls placed online.

Dex, the pseudonym for the group’s purported leader, has claimed credit for various expensive scare calls, although others have been attributed to “copycats”. (more…)

MBTA: Don’t Sue These Students, Hire Them!

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Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Legal Issues

Court blocks MIT students from showing subway hack
by Oskar Garcia
August 11, 2008

d040boston-greenlinetram-200.jpgLas Vegas (AP) — A federal judge ordered three college students to cancel a Sunday presentation at a computer hackers’ conference where they planned to show security flaws in the automated fare system used by Boston’s subway.

The temporary restraining order, issued by a U.S. district judge in Massachusetts, prevented the Massachusetts Institute of Technology students from demonstrating at the Defcon conference in Las Vegas how to use the vulnerabilities to get free rides.

The Electronics Frontier Foundation, which is representing MIT students Zack Anderson, R.J. Ryan and Alessandro Chiesa, plans to fight the order, said Jennifer Granick, the group’s civil liberties director.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said in a complaint filed Friday that the students offered to show others how to use the hacks before giving the transit system a chance to fix the flaws. MIT is also named in the suit.

But Granick told The Associated Press on Sunday that the students were simply trying to share their research and planned to omit key information that would make things easier for anyone who actually wanted to hack the payment system. (more…)

Striptease Performance – Art or Tart?

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Filed under: Legal Issues

Iowa case raises question: Is stripping an art?
by Melanie S. Welte
July 27, 2008

stripper_candy_girl_a_year_in_life_of_20-200.jpgDes Moines, Iowa (AP) — Iowa doesn’t have any all-nude strip clubs – but it does have performing arts centers where women dance naked.

However, the loophole in the state’s public indecent exposure law that allows nude dancing at “art centers” is under attack in the small community of Hamburg, a town of 1,200 just across the Missouri River from Nebraska.

The case pending before a Fremont County judge effects only one business in Hamburg, but if he agrees with the prosecutor, it could eventually threaten the legal standing of nude dancing clubs across the state.

District Judge Timothy O’Grady heard arguments in a one-day trial on July 17 and took the case under advisement.

It all began on July 21, 2007, when a 17-year-old niece of Sheriff Steven MacDonald climbed up on stage at Shotgun Geniez in Hamburg and stripped off her clothing. Owner Clarence Judy was charged with violating Iowa’s public indecent exposure law.

Judy responded that the law doesn’t apply to a “theater, concert hall, art center, museum, or similar establishments” devoted to the arts or theatrical performances.

“Dance has been considered one of the arts, as is sculpture, painting and anything else like that. What Clarence has is a club where people can come and perform,” said his lawyer, Michael Murphy.

Murphy noted that the club has a gallery selling collectible posters and other art, and it provides patrons with sketch pads. Read the rest of the article here.


Artist Steve Kurtz Cleared of all Charges!

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Legal Issues

We’re very pleased to post following press release received today:

Artist Cleared of all Charges in Precedent-setting Case
Department of Justice Fails to Appeal Dismissal
Kurtz Speaks about Four-Year Ordeal
June 11, 2008

scales_of_justice-200.jpgBuffalo, NY–Dr. Steven Kurtz, a Professor of Visual Studies at SUNY at Buffalo and cofounder of the award-winning art and theater group Critical Art Ensemble, has been cleared of all charges of mail and wire fraud. On April 21, Federal Judge Richard J. Arcara dismissed the government’s entire indictment against Dr. Kurtz as “insufficient on its face.” This means that even if the actions alleged in the indictment (which the judge must accept as “fact”) were true, they would not constitute a crime. The US Department of Justice had thirty days from the date of the ruling to appeal. No action has been taken in this time period, thus stopping any appeal of the dismissal. According to Margaret McFarland, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Terrance P. Flynn, the DoJ will not appeal Arcara’s ruling and will not seek any new charges against Kurtz.

For over a decade, cultural institutions worldwide have hosted Kurtz and Critical Art Ensemble’s educational art projects, which use common science materials to examine issues surrounding the new biotechnologies. In 2004 the Department of Justice alleged that Dr. Kurtz had schemed with colleague Dr. Robert Ferrell of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health to illegally acquire two harmless bacteria cultures for use in one of those projects. The Justice Department further alleged that the transfer of the material from Ferrell to Kurtz broke a material transfer agreement, thus constituting mail fraud. (more…)

Old Adage – “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” – To Be Challenged in Federal Court

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Neighbor Indicted in MySpace Sucide Hoax
by Scott Michels and Mary Fulginiti
May 15, 2008

Lori Drew Faces Federal Charges for Alleged Online Hoax That Led to Girl’s Suicide

ht_meier_071205_mn-200.jpgA Missouri woman was indicted Thursday on federal charges for allegedly perpetrating an online hoax that led to the suicide of a 13-year-old girl.

Lori Drew was indicted by a grand jury in Los Angeles for her role in allegedly creating a fake MySpace page, in the name of “Josh Evans,” that was used to contact Megan Meier.

Meier committed suicide in October 2006 and her parents have said their daughter’s death was the result of the rapid decline of her online relationship with “Josh,” whom she believed to be a 16-year-old boy who first flattered the self-conscious girl and then taunted her.

She hanged herself an hour after Josh allegedly said he no longer wanted to be her friend and told her the world would be a better place without her, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

Drew, 49, knew the Meiers and lived down the street from them for years. She was charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress on Megan. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison. (more…)

Artist Steve Kurtz Vindicated!

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Legal Issues, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Editor’s note: For the official press release, visit Critical Art Ensemble Defense Fund Web site.

Federal Charges Against Steven Kurtz Dismissed
by Jeff Woodard, Executive Producer
April 21, 2008, updated April 22, 2008

Dr. Steven KurtzThe indictment charging UB professor Steve Kurtz with two counts of mail fraud and two counts of wire fraud, has been thrown out.

Judge Richard Arcara dismissed the charges in federal court Monday.

FBI agents in Haz-Mat suits went into Kurtz’s Buffalo home in May, 2004. Kurtz had called 911 after finding his wife unresponsive. It turned out that Hope Kurtz had died of natural causes.

But once police entered Kurtz’s home, they found biological samples inside. The F.B.I. was called and a huge investigation followed.

Kurtz told authorities that he used the samples as part of his performance art that deals with bio-technology.

After a lengthy investigation, Kurtz was charged not with bio-terrorism, but with fraudulently obtaining two of the samples that were in his home.

The following is an interview Kurtz conducted with Channel 2’s Scott Brown in 2007, when the indictment was still in place: (more…)

NBC Pursuit of Ratings Achieves New Low

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hype, Legal Issues

NBC ‘Predator’ lawsuit: journalism on trial
by Douglas Lee
Special to the First Amendment Center Online
March 4, 2008

journ1-full-200.jpgYes, it’s only a ruling on a motion to dismiss. And, yes, in such a ruling, the plaintiff’s allegations are presumed to be true. And, yes, it’s only the ruling of a trial judge, not a ruling of an appellate court establishing new precedent.

So, yes, many reasons exist to minimize the importance of the recent ruling in Conradt v. NBC Universal, Inc. At the same time, many reasons exist for NBC to be concerned.

In Conradt, Patricia Conradt is suing NBC for the network’s role in her brother’s suicide. Conradt claims NBC, in an effort to create a sensational arrest for “Dateline NBC: To Catch A Predator,” recklessly orchestrated a police action that caused her brother to take his life.

On Feb. 26, 2008, Denny Chin, a U.S. district judge sitting in the Southern District of New York, held that Conradt’s case could proceed. While he dismissed seven of Conradt’s claims, Chin ruled that the most serious of her allegations — that NBC had violated her brother’s civil rights and had intentionally caused him emotional distress — warranted a jury trial. “[A] reasonable jury,” Chin wrote, “could find that NBC crossed the line from responsible journalism to irresponsible and reckless intrusion into law enforcement.” (more…)

Steve Kurtz, artist or terrorist? – Update

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Legal Issues, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

snapshot_001-200.jpgUpdate: October 11, 2007 — Buffalo, NY – Today in Federal District Court, Dr. Robert Ferrell, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, under tremendous pressure, pled guilty to lesser charges rather than facing a prolonged trial for federal charges of “mail fraud” and “wire fraud” in a surreal post-PATRIOT Act legal case that has attracted worldwide attention.

Dr. Ferrell’s colleague Dr. Steven Kurtz, founder of the internationally acclaimed art and theater group Critical Art Ensemble, was illegally detained and accused of “bioterrorism” by the U.S. government in 2004 stemming from his acquisition from Dr. Ferrell of harmless bacteria used in several of Critical Art Ensemble’s educational art projects. After a costly investigation lasting several months and failing to provide any evidence of “bioterrorism,” the Department of Justice instead brought charges of “mail fraud” and “wire fraud” against Kurtz and Ferrell. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the maximum penalty for these charges has increased from 5 years to 20. (more…)

This One Was a Dud

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Legal Issues, Pranksters

Editor’s word to the wise: Massachusetts has a law against hoax devices: M.G.L. Chapter 266: Section 102A1/2. (a) Whoever possesses, transports, uses or places or causes another to knowingly or unknowingly possess, transport, use or place any hoax device or hoax substance with the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or group of persons shall be punished by imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than two and one-half years or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment. Read more here.

In the news today:


MIT student arrested at Logan in bomb scare
by Anna Badkhen, Michael Levenson, and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
September 21, 2007

Star Simpson was charged with possessing a hoax device today at Logan International Airport for wearing a sweatshirt that had a circuit board affixed to the front with green LED lights and wires running to a 9-volt battery.

An MIT student wearing a device on her chest that included lights and wires was arrested at gunpoint at Logan International Airport this morning after authorities thought the contraption was a bomb strapped to her body. (more…)

A Virtual World Without Virtue

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Filed under: Legal Issues, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

sex3.jpgIn 1993, Joey Skaggs created the world’s first sexual virtual reality company, SEXONIX to market an apparatus that offered not only safe sex in the era of AIDS, but also offered a new dawn of hope for the impotent and handicapped. As Skaggs noted, “Let there be no doubt, SEXONIX offers pleasure of a different order of magnitude. By translating individual fantasies into a stunning approximation of reality, we enable our clients to experience sublime pinnacles of delight that most people only dream of.”

Unfortunately for SEXONIX, Canadian customs agents confiscated all of the hardware and software, valued at over $300,000, at the Canadian border as it was enroute to the Metro Toronto Christmas Gift and Invention Show, on the grounds that SEXONIX was morally offensive to the Canadian people. Thus ensued a long legal battle to retrieve the confiscated property.

Fast forward to 2007 and a story of not-so-epic proportions, but that might actually be true, is unfolding in the virtual world of Second Life.

Entrepreneur Kevin Alderman’s company, Eros LLC, created SexGen Platinum, software that, according to AP, “animates amorous avatars in erotic positions… [It] has gotten so popular that he’s now had to hire lawyers to track down the flesh-and-blood person behind the online identity, or avatar, that he says illegally copied and sold it…

“Catherine Smith, director of marketing for ‘Second Life’ creator Linden Lab, said she knew of no other real-world legal fight between two avatars.”

Here’s the AP Story, and a Reuters Story with a slightly different angle.

Judicial use of public humiliation?

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Filed under: Legal Issues, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Soliciting Sex Draws Fowl Sentence for 3
July 26, 2007

brac005200.jpgPainesville, Ohio (AP) — A judge known for giving unusual sentences has ordered three men who pleaded guilty to soliciting sex to take turns dressing in a bright yellow chicken costume.

Painesville Municipal Judge Michael Cicconetti agreed to suspend a 30-day jail sentence if they wear the costume between 4 and 7 p.m. Friday outside the court while carrying a sign that reads “No Chicken Ranch in Painesville.”

The sign and costume refer to the “World Famous Chicken Ranch,” a prostitution house in Nevada where sex-for-money is legal.

Daniel Chapdelaine, 40, of Perry Township; Martin Soto, 44, of Ashtabula; and Fabian Rodriguez-Ramirez, 29, of Painesville, solicited sex from an undercover Painesville police officer earlier this summer. (more…)

A Royal Pain

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Filed under: Legal Issues, Satire

Under Spanish law, anybody who insults the royal family can face up to two years in prison.

prince32.jpgSpain in uproar after royal sex cartoon banned
New Zealand Herald
July 22, 2007

Madrid – Spanish media poured scorn at a judge’s decision to pull a satirical magazine that published a cartoon of the heir to the throne having sex, saying it trampled freedom of expression in a first world democracy.

On Friday, Juan del Olmo ordered police to round up copies of El Jueves, whose front page carried a drawing of Crown Prince Felipe having sex with his wife and commenting on a government plan to give parents 2,500 euros ($NZ4423.99) for each child born.