Media and First Amendment

Overview

Whether our media clients need assistance with complex constitutional issues or everyday business activity, Richards Layton can provide the help they need. Our firm has a long history of protecting the First Amendment rights of journalists, and has built on that foundation to help our clients undertake proactive review of controversial materials, respond to subpoenas, and seek open records access. With deep and practical insight into how the media business works, we help clients weigh legal risks against the public interest and reach the right decision to accommodate both.

Richards Layton represents the only statewide newspaper and most other major media and communications organizations in Delaware. Our lawyers provide litigation and counseling services focused on asserting and proactively protecting First Amendment rights. We also advise media clients on their everyday operations in issues ranging from employment and labor law matters involving their own employees, to disputes between newspapers and independent delivery contractors over their contractual arrangements.

A number of our clients are owned by some of the largest media corporations (both broadcasters and publishers) in the country. We have represented them in state and federal courts, including the Delaware Supreme Court, the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware and the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in First Amendment and Freedom of Information Act disputes involving federal law.

First Amendment Rights
Richards Layton has defended local and national media companies and their reporters in disputes involving allegations of libel and in controversies over privacy and rights of publicity. We have tried a number of First Amendment, libel, defamation and invasion of privacy suits, and have a solid record of defending our news organization clients.

Our work also includes defense against government retaliation and other restraints on expression (including commercial speech) that are protected by the First Amendment. A special emphasis is on representing reporters and news organizations subpoenaed for information or testimony about their news sources.

Freedom of Information Act Access
Our media lawyers have filed suit in federal court under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to help journalists gain timely access to public records, closed meetings and closed court proceedings. The State of Delaware has its own FOIA statute designed to guarantee that the public has access to the public records of governmental bodies; to secure that access, our lawyers have pursued litigation in both the state’s Superior Court and Supreme Court.

More typically, however, we work directly with governmental agencies to negotiate the appropriate access provided for by state law. Given Delaware’s prominence in corporate litigation, we similarly approach state courts with reasoned public interest arguments for releasing company documents that have been filed under seal in lawsuits.

Pre-Publication Review
Although we effectively represent our clients in court, much of our work involves helping clients understand potential problems before taking content public. With extensive practical insight into the workings of print, broadcast and online media, we are able to take an editor’s viewpoint to help clients weigh legal risks against the public interest and reach the right decision to accommodate both as we:

  • Review drafts and storyboards
  • Substantiate express and implied claims
  • Advise on privacy and publicity issues and the likelihood of challenges
  • Identify trademark, copyright and other intellectual property issues raised by content
  • Conform content to accepted professional policies, standards and guidelines.

In certain controversial articles we have participated in the editing process, to ensure that both reporters and their editors understand the legal issues involved and to suggest risk mitigation strategies. Our goal is to reach the proper balance of professional standards and legal prudence.

Representative Clients

  • Cape Gazette
  • Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
  • Gannett Company, Inc.
  • Independent Newspapers, Inc.
  • Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc.

Related Practices