Prof. Brian Murchison Lectures about Blogging and Free Speech during Australia Visit

Lexington, VA Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Prof. Brian Murchison

Brian Murchison, Charles S. Rowe Professor of Law at Washington and Lee, recently spent several weeks in Australia as a visiting scholar at the University of Melbourne Law School and its Center for Media and Communications Law.

While in Australia, Murchison presented a paper and served as a panelist during several events exploring blogging, free speech and privacy law issues raised in several recent cases. Murchison addresses these issues in a forthcoming article titled "Blogging: Of Liberty and Justice in the U.S. Experience." The article focuses on blogger anonymity and how far the right of privacy extends on the internet.

"Australia and New Zealand are both engaged in lively conversations about the scope of free speech and how it should be balanced with other interests," notes Murchison in explaining the interest in the topic of the many barristers and scholars from those countries who attended his presentations. "The United States has ten years of cases now concerning free speech and the internet, and members of the legal profession in these countries see these issues on the horizon."

Murchison presented his research at the firm Mallesons Stephen Jacques in Sydney and at the Melbourne Law School. Commentary was provided by New Zealand barrister and blogger Steven Price. The discussion in Sydney was moderated by Justice Ruth McColl of the New South Wales Court of Appeal, and in Melbourne by Andrew Kenyon, a noted defamation scholar.

One recent case Murchison addressed during his visit and on Australia's National Public Radio just before his presentations was the controversial "Night Jack" case in the U.K., where a newspaper reporter uncovered the identity of a much-read anonymous blogger in London. When the reporter informed the blogger, a police officer blogging about his work and various policy issues, that he intended to disclose the blogger's identity in the pages of the newspaper, the blogger sought a court order restraining the paper from revealing his identity. Ultimately, the judge in the case ruled in favor of the newspaper.

"It's likely this case would end with the same result if tried in the U.S.," says Murchison. "The question in the U.K. involved the balance of privacy and public interest concerns, whereas the question in the U.S. would be one of prior restraint. In any event, the information being protected would have to have serious national security implications before the press would be restricted from publishing."

Murchison also participated in a Melbourne Law School panel discussion titled "The Future of Breach of Confidence," exploring developments in the law of confidential information. Other panelists were scholars from Kings College, London, Victoria University of Wellington, and the New South Wales Law Reform Commission.

This is not the first collaboration between W&L and the Melbourne Law School. In addition to a 2007 visit where Murchison presented research on libel law, two of his Melbourne Law School colleagues have visited W&L Law. Andrew Kenyon previously presented research at a faculty workshop sponsored by the Lewis Law Center, and Megan Richardson served as a visiting professor in fall 2002.

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