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CBLDF Executive Directory Charles Brownstein Looks Back on 2004

by  in Comic News Comment
CBLDF Executive Directory Charles Brownstein Looks Back on 2004

Official Press Release

It’s been an eventful year for the CBLDF and the broader world of
Free Speech. In these busy months, the Fund has participated in
eleven cases. In some cases the Fund was a primary plaintiff, and in
others participated as amicus, or friend of the court, but all of the
cases we joined had profound First Amendment impact upon the rights of
the comics community. As we approach the New Year, it is fitting that
we reflect on the challenges that were faced in this one.

Currently we are funding a case involving what we believe to be an
unlawful seizure of parody comics at U.S. Customs. The comics in
question, “Richie Bush” and “Moj Stub,” were
published in issues of the Slovenian comics anthology Stripburger.
The short stories were seized because Customs believed the comics were
“piratical” copies of existing copyrights. The Fund’s
legal experts disagreed, finding that the comics in question are
protected as parody, and so we filed a request for court action. We
are waiting for Customs to either initiate proceedings in Federal
Court or drop the case by returning the books. We hope for a positive
conclusion to this case early in the New Year.

The year’s most significant battles were waged against display
laws in Arkansas and Michigan that would have affected how comics,
books, and other media are sold. The laws in question were amendments
to existing “harmful to minors” statutes that would have
required retailers to segregate and blind content falling into the
overbroad definition of harmful, by applying a vague standard of
display. In Arkansas we won a victory declaring that the law we were
protesting was unconstitutional. In Michigan, the court dismissed our
complaint, but in doing so interpreted the law in a fashion that
protects the First Amendment rights of retailers.

We also continued the fight against unconstitutional Internet laws,
scoring a big victory against the Child Online Protection Act (COPA)
when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the preliminary injunction against
the law, stating COPA was “likely unconstitutional.” A new
hearing will occur next year in what we hope will begin the final
showdown against this dangerous law. Action moved more slowly in
South Carolina, where we are still in legal maneuvers against their
“harmful to minors” Internet statute. As it stands, however,
our work fighting these dangerous Internet laws ensures that
cartoonists and retailers online will not have to change how they do
business to accommodate for these unconstitutional statutes, because
they are not enforceable during our challenges.

We participated as amicus, or friend of the court, in a number of
cases. In California we came to the defense of a teen poet whose
First Amendment rights were being trampled upon in the guise of the
state’s criminal threat law. George T., a high-school student,
was expelled from school for writing poetry with graphic imagery and
served time in a juvenile detention facility. We joined forces with
the First Amendment Project and the ACLU of Northern California on a
brief enlisting authors including J.M. Coetzee, Michael Chabon, Harlan
Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Greg Rucka, Peter Straub, and other prominent
authors and poets protesting the youth’s treatment. The
California Supreme Court agreed with the brief and overturned the
student’s conviction.

We also participated in New Times v. Isaacks, in a brief led by the
Association of American Publishers, protesting a defamation claim by
public officials because of a satirical article run in a local
alternative newspaper. The Texas Supreme Court sided with our brief,
affirming that the satire of public figures is speech protected by the
First Amendment.

Another victorious amicus brief was joined in support of the Video
Software Dealers Association’s fight against Washington
State’s controversial video game law that prohibited the sale or
rental to anyone under the age of 17 of a game depicting violence
against law enforcement officers. A Federal District Judge threw the
law out as unconstitutional on free speech grounds.

We joined a group of amici in filing a brief before the United States
Supreme Court in City of Littleton v. Z.J. Gifts. At issue in this
case was whether ordinances governing zoning laws as they apply to
adult businesses guaranteed prompt judicial review or a prompt
judicial decision. The Fund and our allies were pushing for a prompt
judicial decision to be held as the standard, fearing that existing
businesses that sideline in adult merchandise could be shut down
permanently due to business lost while their case moved through the
legal system. The Supremes unfortunately disagreed, upholding the
status quo, stating, in essence, “trust the courts.” The
problematic aspect of this decision is that while prompt judicial
review is guaranteed, the wait for a decision could be potentially
fatal to small stores.

There were no new developments in other amicus casework, including
Tyne v. Time-Warner, an important Right of Publicity case in Florida,
and Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor v. John Ashcroft, an
important case challenging section 215 of the Patriot Act.

In addition to the above legal action, we experienced a change in the
makeup of our Board of Directors. Founder and President Denis Kitchen
retired from the Board after 18 years of service last summer, to be
replaced as President by Chris Staros, publisher of Top Shelf
Productions. John Davis of Davis Marketing Services also stepped down
from the Board to pursue other interests. In their absence, Paul
Levitz, President and Publisher of DC Comics and Steve Geppi, Founder
and President of Diamond Comic Distributors joined the CBLDF Board.
Peter David, Neil Gaiman, Milton Griepp, Greg Ketter, Frank
Mangiaracina, and Louise Nemschoff were re-elected to serve on the
Board, with Griepp stepping into the role of Treasurer.

This was a positive year for fundraising, allowing the Fund to raise a
substantial increase to our war chest. The efforts of several
individuals and organizations made this possible, most notably:
Fiddler’s Green, the Sandman convention whose committee raised in
excess of $45,000 for the CBLDF this November; SPX, which raised
$22,000 for CBLDF; Jim Lee, whose continuing efforts earned him the
distinction of Defender of Liberty; as well as the dozens of
convention organizers and hundreds of supporters whose contributions
paid for the Fund’s legal work and war chest contribution through
the year.

Going into the New Year, the Fund is as strong as it’s ever been,
thanks to the generous contributions of our supporters and the solid
work put in by our legal team. 2005 will have its share of
challenges, with the Customs battle still developing and an overall
troubling climate for Free Speech. But, despite these challenges, we
are in a position to continue to fight the good fight and ensure that
the First Amendment rights of the comics community will continue to be
guarded as we move forward.

As we close this year, we thank the many individuals who have made
2004 a strong year for the Fund, and trust that we can continue to
count on your support in the year to come.

Sincerely,

Charles Brownstein

Executive Director

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