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 ofFree Speech. In these busy months, the Fund has participated ineleven cases. In some cases the Fund was a primary plaintiff, and inothers participated as amicus, or friend of the court, but all of thecases we joined had profound First Amendment impact upon the rights ofthe comics community. As we approach the New Year, it is fitting thatwe reflect on the challenges that were faced in this one.

Currently we are funding a case involving what we believe to be anunlawful seizure of parody comics at U.S. Customs. The comics inquestion, "Richie Bush" and "Moj Stub," werepublished 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'slegal experts disagreed, finding that the comics in question areprotected as parody, and so we filed a request for court action. Weare waiting for Customs to either initiate proceedings in FederalCourt or drop the case by returning the books. We hope for a positiveconclusion to this case early in the New Year.

The year's most significant battles were waged against displaylaws in Arkansas and Michigan that would have affected how comics,books, and other media are sold. The laws in question were amendmentsto existing "harmful to minors" statutes that would haverequired retailers to segregate and blind content falling into theoverbroad definition of harmful, by applying a vague standard ofdisplay. In Arkansas we won a victory declaring that the law we wereprotesting was unconstitutional. In Michigan, the court dismissed ourcomplaint, but in doing so interpreted the law in a fashion thatprotects 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 againstthe law, stating COPA was "likely unconstitutional." A newhearing will occur next year in what we hope will begin the finalshowdown against this dangerous law. Action moved more slowly inSouth 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 thatcartoonists and retailers online will not have to change how they dobusiness to accommodate for these unconstitutional statutes, becausethey are not enforceable during our challenges.

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

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

Another victorious amicus brief was joined in support of the VideoSoftware Dealers Association's fight against WashingtonState's controversial video game law that prohibited the sale orrental to anyone under the age of 17 of a game depicting violenceagainst law enforcement officers. A Federal District Judge threw thelaw out as unconstitutional on free speech grounds.

We joined a group of amici in filing a brief before the United StatesSupreme Court in City of Littleton v. Z.J. Gifts. At issue in thiscase was whether ordinances governing zoning laws as they apply toadult businesses guaranteed prompt judicial review or a promptjudicial decision. The Fund and our allies were pushing for a promptjudicial decision to be held as the standard, fearing that existingbusinesses that sideline in adult merchandise could be shut downpermanently due to business lost while their case moved through thelegal system. The Supremes unfortunately disagreed, upholding thestatus quo, stating, in essence, "trust the courts." Theproblematic aspect of this decision is that while prompt judicialreview is guaranteed, the wait for a decision could be potentiallyfatal to small stores.

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

In addition to the above legal action, we experienced a change in themakeup of our Board of Directors. Founder and President Denis Kitchenretired from the Board after 18 years of service last summer, to bereplaced as President by Chris Staros, publisher of Top ShelfProductions. John Davis of Davis Marketing Services also stepped downfrom the Board to pursue other interests. In their absence, PaulLevitz, President and Publisher of DC Comics and Steve Geppi, Founderand President of Diamond Comic Distributors joined the CBLDF Board. Peter David, Neil Gaiman, Milton Griepp, Greg Ketter, FrankMangiaracina, and Louise Nemschoff were re-elected to serve on theBoard, with Griepp stepping into the role of Treasurer.

This was a positive year for fundraising, allowing the Fund to raise asubstantial increase to our war chest. The efforts of severalindividuals and organizations made this possible, most notably:Fiddler's Green, the Sandman convention whose committee raised inexcess of $45,000 for the CBLDF this November; SPX, which raised$22,000 for CBLDF; Jim Lee, whose continuing efforts earned him thedistinction of Defender of Liberty; as well as the dozens ofconvention organizers and hundreds of supporters whose contributionspaid for the Fund's legal work and war chest contribution throughthe 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 solidwork put in by our legal team. 2005 will have its share ofchallenges, with the Customs battle still developing and an overalltroubling climate for Free Speech. But, despite these challenges, weare in a position to continue to fight the good fight and ensure thatthe First Amendment rights of the comics community will continue to beguarded as we move forward.

As we close this year, we thank the many individuals who have made2004 a strong year for the Fund, and trust that we can continue tocount on your support in the year to come.


Charles Brownstein

Executive Director

How Dungeons & Dragons Quietly Took Over Pop Culture

More in Comics