Hit & Run

State Kills Anti-Porn Bill After Discovering More About Its Backer, Free Speech Win for FX's Feud, FISA Warrants Under Scrutiny: Reason Roundup

And President Trump is mad at Amazon for...ruining the postal service?

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Yui Mok/ZUMA Press/Newscom

State porn bills suffer a blow: New revelations about the man who authored trendy anti-porn and digital censorship legislation has killed its chances in at least one state, Rhode Island, and may doom its chances in the 17 other states with similar proposals. Thank goodness.

The Rhode Island measure—which we covered here earlier this monthwould have required people to pay a $20-per-device fee for the opportunity to access porn sites and any other content that might "affront current standards of decency" from phones, laptops, or other digitally enabled devices. Tech companies themselves were supposed to figure out how to make these filters ironclad or face serious liability.

The man behind the idea, Chris Sevier, was lobbying around the country for similar legislation, which he sometimes called the "Elizabeth Smart Law," in reference to the Utah woman who was famously abducted from her home as a teenager in 2002.

Smart recently demanded that Sevier stop using her name to sell his porn proposal, which she was not associated with and had not endorsed. Sevier told AP that "Elizabeth Smart Law" was just an "offhand name" and the measure was officially called the "Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Act."

It's a bad legal month all around for Sevier, who had sued in federal court for the right to marry his laptop since same-sex couples can now wed. A federal judge in Utah threw out the case in mid-March.

After an AP story on all of this Monday, Republican state Sen. Frank Ciccone, who had introduced the porn-fee bill in the Rhode Island Senate, withdrew his proposal from consideration. He told AP he felt "misled" by the people pushing the bill.

"But not only me. I assume there's quite a few other people," [Ciccone] said, adding he assumes lawmakers in other states also will pull their bills. "A lot of us had misinformation."

Dave Maass, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said he's not sure "whether legislators really fully understand the nanny state this bill would create." He also commented that it's "fascinating" how Sevier "is pulling this off, like how he's convincing so many people to introduce this bill."

The whole fiasco isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of how a lot of state officials approach the lawmaking process. At minimum, you'd think someone in these legislators' offices would put a smidge of effort into finding out basic background about the people whose whims they're attempting to enable into law. That Sevier is a laptop-spouse-coveting zealot has long been public record.

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FX wins First Amendment feud with centenarian star. Hollywood golden-age actress Olivia de Havilland didn't like her portrayal in last year's FX miniseries Feud, a Ryan Murphy vehicle that, like American Horror Story, will feature a different iconic feud each season. Last year's focused on Bette Davis and Joan Crawford; de Havilland (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) shows up recurring as a friend of Davis. The 101-year-old actress sued FX and Murphy over the portrayal, on false light and right of publicity claims.

This week, a panel of Los Angeles Court of Appeal judges ruled against de Havilland in what EFF calls "a big win" for free speech. "If the lower court's interpretation of the law were correct, it would threaten a huge range of expression about real people, ranging from dramas, to documentaries, to fan websites," according to EFF. The appeals-court judges agreed:

The [lower] court concluded that, because Feud tried to portray de Havilland as realistically as possible, the program was not "transformative" … and therefore not entitled to First Amendment protection. As appellants and numerous amici point out, this reasoning would render actionable all books, films, plays, and television programs that accurately portray real people. Indeed, the more realistic the portrayal, the more actionable the expressive work would be. The First Amendment does not permit this result."

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Trump slams Amazon for … ruining the Postal Service? Sigh.

As an article in Vox pointed out last year, even if Amazon gets a really good deal on shipping, "the Postal Service's problems are deeper than just delivering packages. Larger institutional problems in the age of email and two-hour delivery are really to blame."

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