First Amendment and Media

For more than a generation, Williams & Connolly has been a go-to firm for the most important First Amendment and media cases.   The firm has represented many of the major media, film, broadcasting, and technology companies, and it has been involved in many of the country’s major libel and copyright infringement cases over the past fifty years. 

Media Representation

Williams & Connolly represents major newspapers, news magazines, television networks, book publishers, motion picture studios, technology companies, and individual journalists and artists in every type of litigation.  Our current and recent clients include: The Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox Television Stations, Inc., 21st Century Fox, Fox News, Time, HBO, The Walt Disney Co., Paramount Pictures, MGM Studios,  the Atlantic Monthly, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and Google.  The firm has defended hundreds of cases involving the defense of claims for libel, invasion of privacy, and related torts.  

We have also represented media organizations in numerous copyright, employment, antitrust, and trade practices cases.  It has been enlisted to defend novel claims of copycat violence and police “ride-along” tort liability, and to challenge legislation that would impair the First Amendment rights of the media.  In countless cases, the firm has resisted subpoenas to journalists, fought orders denying access to courtrooms and court records, and pursued claims under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).  In each engagement, Williams & Connolly is able to apply not only its comprehensive experience in First Amendment and media law, but its extensive experience in the courtroom.

Although litigation is the principal focus of our media work, firm lawyers are also called upon to provide a range of other related services.  For example, the firm has been engaged for pre-publication review of print and broadcast material and to offer advice on the full range of issues that arise in major media and entertainment organizations.  Such issues include: matters of potential libel and invasion of privacy, copyright, contract and internet policy that arise with some frequency, as well as issues of national security that arise in extraordinary circumstances.

Non-Media First Amendment Work

Williams & Connolly represents individuals, universities, churches and other non-media organizations in litigation arising under the free speech and religion clauses of the First Amendment.  Amtrak, the U.S. Postal Service and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Committee have retained the firm to litigate or advise on the right of free speech in a public forum.  The University of Michigan, Georgetown University, The Catholic University of America and other educational institutions have sought our representation and advice on issues of academic freedom, tenure, accreditation, recognition of student organizations and the relationship between religiously affiliated universities and the church.

The firm has litigated cases presenting issues of religious freedom throughout the nation, and has handled many of the landmark Establishment Clause cases in the Supreme Court.  Among our many clients have been The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archdiocese of Washington, the Society of Jesus, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the United Methodist Church, the General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists and the Rocky Mountain Christian Church.

Technology Representation

Williams & Connolly regulary represents major technology companies in investigations and litigation involving the First Amendment, the Communications Decency Act, and other issues relating to online content and content moderation.

  • Freedom Watch Inc. et al. v. Google Inc. et al. – Successfully defended Google, as well as co-defendants Facebook, Twitter and Apple, alleging that various social media sites, including Google and YouTube, violated the First Amendment, federal antitrust law, and the D.C. Human Rights Act by censoring conservative online content on various social media platforms.
  • Technology Company – Representation of a technology company in a lawsuit brought by a state AG.
  • Technology Company – Successful defense of a technology company in a lawsuit claiming that our client violated the First Amendment by enacting and enforcing content policies, and/or by deleting posted comments.

Representative First Amendment and Media Matters

The firm has a long history of representing major television networks, motion picture studios, publications and individuals in defamation, privacy and related claims, including representation before the Supreme Court.

Recent representations include:

  • Mitre Sports Int’l Ltd. v. Home Box Office Inc. – Successful trial defense of HBO in first major defamation case to go to verdict against a national television broadcaster in years.  Mitre Sports, a major soccer ball manufacturer, asserted that an investigative segment on HBO's “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” falsely portrayed the company as using, or turning a blind eye to the use of, child labor in the manufacture of soccer balls in India.  After a four-week trial—and only five hours of deliberations—the jury returned a verdict in HBO’s favor.
  • Nunes v. Cable News Network - Successfully defended CNN against a defamation action brought by former Congressman Devin Nunes arising out of CNN’s coverage of the impeachment of President Trump. 
  • Nunes v. The Washington Post – Successfully defended The Washington Post against a defamation action brought by former Congressman Devin Nunes arising out of the publication’s coverage of information related to Rep. Nunes’s relationship with President Trump’s former acting director of national intelligence.
  • Harvey v. CNN - Successfully defended CNN against a defamation action brought by a senior advisor to Congressman Devin Nunes arising out of CNN’s coverage of the impeachment of President Trump.
  • Sandmann v. The Washington Post – Defense of The Washington Post in suit brought by Covington, Kentucky high school student alleging that the newspaper falsely accused him of racist acts and instigating a confrontation with a Native American activist in a January 2019 videotaped incident at the Lincoln Memorial.
  • Florio et al v. Galludet University et al. – Successfully represented The Washington Post in a defamation suit brought by four alumni of the Kappa Gamma fraternity at Gallaudet University.
  • Beef Products Inc., et al. v. American Broadcasting Cos. Inc., et al. – Trial defense of ABC and three of its journalists in high-visibility defamation case involving “World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer.”  Plaintiffs asserted claims of libel, product disparagement, and tortious interference with business relations arising out of news reports concerning its product.
  • Wheeler v. 21st Century Fox – Successful defense of Fox in defamation suit brought by former D.C. police detective alleging that he was misquoted in Fox News report about the murder of a Democratic National Committee staffer (Seth Rich) and his alleged communications with WikiLeaks.   
  • Marshall County Coal Company v. Oliver – Successful defense of HBO and John Oliver in defamation suit brought by coal company Murray Energy and its CEO concerning segment of “Last Week Tonight.”
  • Virginia Citizens Defense League v. Couric – Successful defense of a prominent American journalist in a libel suit brought by a Second Amendment advocacy group that objected to their portrayal in a documentary about gun control.
  • Abbas v. Foreign Policy Group – Successful defense of defamation suit brought by son of President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, concerning an article in Foreign Policy magazine.
  • Arpaio v. Zucker, et al. – Successful defense of CNN, its president, and anchor in libel suit filed by Joseph Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona.
  • Murray Energy Corporation v. Bloomberg L.P. – Successful defense of lawsuit alleging that Bloomberg has misappropriated trade secrets in its business reporting concerning a conference call for holders of publicly traded bonds that were part of a $1.3 billion debt offering.
  • Stone v. Bloomberg L.P. – Successful defense of Bloomberg and two journalists in defamation suit arising out of its article reporting that plaintiff and other directors of a Hong Kong payday lender had misappropriated investors’ funds.
  • Pregame LLC v. Gizmodo Media Group – Successful defamation defense of Univision-owned subsidiary GMG, which acquired former Gawker Media Group websites including Deadspin and was sued for refusing a demand to remove a Deadspin article after the acquisition.   
  • Bernstein v. O’Reilly; Mackris v. O’Reilly – Successful defense of defamation suits against Fox News and 21st Century Fox based on statements made after settlement of sexual harassment claims.
  • Von Kahl v. BNA Media – Representation of a coalition of 39 media organizations as amici curiae in important libel case in the D.C. Circuit.

Additional past representations include:

  • In re CNN & Time Magazine "Operation Tailwind" Litigation - Successful defense of CNN, Time and AOL Time Warner in multidistrict libel litigation based on published and broadcast reports concerning a Vietnam-era Special Forces mission in Laos.
  • Chapin v. Knight-Ridder, Inc. - Successful defense of libel claim against Knight-Ridder based on news report of charitable organization's fundraising activities.
  • White v. Fraternal Order of Police - Successful defense of libel suit by police officer against The Washington Post and NBC based on reports of drug testing.
  • Hornberger v. ABC - Successful defense of libel and wiretapping claims brought by New Jersey police officers based on a broadcast on "Driving While Black" that involved the use of hidden cameras.
  • Tucker v. Fischbein - Successful defense of libel claim against Newsweek based on report of litigation between anti-rap activist and the estate of Tupac Shakur.
  • Knickerbocker v. NBC - Successful defense of Dateline broadcast reporting on contested adoption proceeding in Detroit.
  • Ovadia v. Bloom - Successful defense of Miami television station in libel suit over report on doctors.
  • Miles v. Ramsey - Successful defense of libel claim arising out of Jon Benet Ramsey murder investigation.
  • Baumback v. ABC - Successful defense of libel claim by Forest Service official based on news report concerning timber sales in national forest.
  • Fortensky v. National Enquirer, Inc. - Successful defense of libel and commercial appropriation claims brought by movie star, resulting in attorney's fee award to the Enquirer.
  • Kendrick v. Fox Television - Successful defense of Fox and NBC in libel suit based on reports of drug raid in plaintiff's apartment complex.
  • Dorsey v. National Enquirer, Inc. - Successful defense of libel claim brought by popular entertainer.
  • International Association of Machinists v. Walt Disney Co. - Successful defense of libel suit based on the movie Ransom.
  • Davis v. Costa-Gavras - Successful defense of libel suit based on the movie Missing.
  • Tavoulareas v. Piro - Successful defense of libel suit brought against The Washington Post by Mobil President based on report of Mobil's business relationship with his son.
  • McLaughlin v. Washington Post Co. - Successful jury defense of privacy, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and related claims based on newsgathering activities.

Copyright and Intellectual Property

The firm’s work for media companies in copyright and intellectual property disputes includes the successful representation of record companies in the landmark case A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc. and successful representation of entertainment companies before the Supreme Court in MGM Studios Inc., et al. v. Grokster, Ltd, and more recent representations of broadcasters and other copyright holders in a wide range of copyright matters.

Recent representations include:

  • American Broadcasting Cos. Inc., et al. v. Goodfriend, et al. – Successful representation of multiple broadcast television networks in copyright infringement action alleging defendants were committing massive copyright infringement in operating an unauthorized internet broadcast television retransmission service.
  • The Andy Warhol Foundation v. Goldsmith – Representation of a renowned editorial photographer in appellate litigation involving fundamental questions about the “transformative use” doctrine.
  • Warner Music Group Corp., et al. v. Megaupload Ltd., et al. – Ongoing representation of the RIAA and major record labels in litigation against an online file sharing website concerning the site’s alleged infringement of thousands of music files.
  • Marshall, et al. v. ESPN, Inc., et al. – Successful representation of media company and sports network in putative class action alleging Lanham Act violations and violation of a right of publicity.
  • Vette TV Productions LLC, et al. v. Discovery Communications LLC, et al. – Successful representation of mass media company in copyright infringement suit alleging the company misappropriated the idea for a television program.
  • Atlantic Recording Corp. et al. v. Andrew Sampson et al. – Successful representation of major record labels in copyright infringement litigation involving a music streaming site.

Non-Media First Amendment Cases

  • Speech First, Inc. v. University of Michigan – Representation of the University of Michigan in lawsuit alleging policies violated the First Amendment.

Law360 Names Williams & Connolly Among "Media & Entertainment Practice Groups of the Year"

Law360 Names Williams & Connolly Among "Media & Entertainment Practice Groups of the Year"

Williams & Connolly Scores Victory for Firm Client Shannon Sharpe in Defamation Case

Williams & Connolly Scores Victory for Firm Client Shannon Sharpe in Defamation Case

First Amendment & Media Practice Earns Top Rankings from Chambers 2023

First Amendment & Media Practice Earns Top Rankings from Chambers 2023
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