The question of whether digital media companies like Google, Facebook and Backpages.com can or should be held liable for their customers’ wrongdoings—defamation, libel, trademark violations and sex trafficking, for example—is vexing, and only becomes more so when first amendment rights enter the equation.

Dean Perlman and MastermansOn Tuesday April 5, Daphne Keller and John Albano joined Suffolk Law Professor Rebecca Curtin for a discussion on the topic as part of the Masterman Speakers Series. Keller, Director of Intermediary Liability at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and a former Associate General Counsel at Google, recounted the Max Mosley case, in which the British tabloid News of the World published secretly filmed photos and video of Mosley, a minor celebrity in Britain. The filming took place during an orgy which the tabloid claimed had Nazi overtones.

Mosley won the defamation case and asked Google’s attorneys to build a filter that would detect the images in question and prevent them from being linked to through Google. Keller asked the audience whether automatic content filtering of infringing material would ultimately end up silencing lawful speech.

Jon Albano, Partner at Morgan Lewis, LLP, who represents the Boston Globe, looked at the question of remote access to court records and whether making access to such documents public and easily accessible through the internet might have some unintended consequences—including the discriminatory use of court records by employers and landlords who would have been unlikely to visit bricks and mortar courts to gather information.

Professor Curtin then posed questions to the panelists that invited further discussion of whether current laws are striking the right balance between privacy, security, access to information, and the infrastructure that makes a free market of ideas possible.

The panel concluded by taking a wide range of questions from the audience on topics from the latest filtering technology to the effect of DMCA takedowns.

Edward I. Masterman, JD ’50, LLD ’90 and his wife Sydell established the Speaker Series on the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate to provide a forum for robust debate and exchange of ideas on freedom of the press and its attendant responsibilities. In introductory remarks Edward Masterman spoke about his concerns about the ascendancy of Donald Trump and what he described as Trump’s disdain for the press. Masterman asked the audience to be mindful of the dangers posed to democracy by government leaders lacking respect for press freedoms.