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NYCLU Urges Court To Reject Indymedia Subpoena

The New York Civil Liberties Union is defending the New York City Independent Media Center’s (NYC-IMC) against a subpoena to release its journalistic material to the City which is defending itself in a federal civil rights case. NYC-IMC is a news gathering organization that operates well within established law and the NYCLU says the group is entitled to qualified privilege under the First Amendment.

The civil rights claim has been brought against the City by protestors participating in the Earth and Animal Liberation March which took place February 2, 2002, one of a series of protests in New York City against the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF is an annual event and is the largest gathering of corporate chief executives in the world. It also invites political leaders from various nations as well as other noteworthy people to its gathering.

The WEF presence in New York for the first time in its history, from January 31st-February 2nd 2002, attracted protesters who came to peacefully demonstrate, march or speak out on a wide range of issues. The WEF also attracted media from throughout the world, including Indymedia of which NYC-IMC is a part.

There were physical encounters between police and protesters and a number of people that unlawfully were arrested while they were engaged in a peaceful march on February 2, 2002, have filed a civil rights claim against the City and members of the NYPD. The City, as defendants, has subpoenaed material from NYC-IMC, claiming many of the marchers learned of the weekend’s events from an Indymedia Web site and the City is seeking to discover who organized the march. On behalf of NYC-IMC, the NYCLU has moved to quash the subpoenas seeking the group’s material because NYC-IMC is a newsgathering organization and, as such, is entitled to privileges protected by the First Amendment.

The online material the City seeks that was posted on the Indymedia Web site is not operated by NYC-IMC. The NYCLU points out that much of what the City is seeking in its subpoena is readily available online through search engines such as Google. The City is also seeking material from the back issues of The Indypendent, NYC-IMC’s biweekly newspaper. The City can obtain back issues of this publication which are readily available at the New York University Library.

Gathering this material for the City, which the City can gather itself, would be an unwarranted burden on NYC-IMC as a news outlet and therefore impossible under the First Amendment, according to the letter sent toe the City’s Law Department by the NYCLU. The City applied to the court to enforce the subpoena and the court has rejected the City’s application.

Cooperating attorneys in the case from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP include Maria Vullo, Ron Chowdhury, Drew Harris and Daniel Perez.

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