Media Law, MCOM 350, Wednesdays

Media Law syllabus

MEDIA LAW, MCOM 350, 5-7:40 p.m. Wednesdays, Spring 2019

Instructor: Prof. Beth Haller, Ph.D.
Phone: (410) 704-2442
Office: Van Bokkelen 205B

Office Hours:
3:30-4:45 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and by appointment. Feel free to send me E-mail messages with questions about the class.

Catalog course description:
Examination of libel, slander, invasion of privacy and copyright. Legal considerations in reporting on judicial and governmental activities. Prerequisites: Majors only, Junior/Senior standing.

Course Objectives:

1. To explore the legal framework that shapes the mass media.

2. To understand how the First Amendment affects the media and the average citizen.

3. To understand defamation and its limitations and the liability for libel.

4. To understand the rights to privacy and the public’s interest in news gathering.

5. To understand the media’s role in reporting crimes and court trials.

6. To understand the copyright laws of the United States.

7. To understand regulation of commercial speech and telecommunications.

8. To understand how new media/online technologies have shaped mass media law.

Course overview:
Media Law should give you an overview of the legal issues currently facing most forms of mass media. Much of the course will focus on the legal cases that have established current media law. Because you will be tested on your understanding of media legal issues and the cases involved, it is suggested that you put all the pertinent information about each important case and topic on a separate index card. As you read the chapters, create cards for the topics and cases mentioned. This will aid you with your study for tests, as well as prepare you for class. You should learn to apply the legal concepts we discuss in class to hypothetical situations that will be given in class and on tests. The glossary in the back of the textbook will guide you to other key legal concepts you should know. I suggest you form small study groups to aid your comprehension of the material and to study for tests. Legal concepts can be best understood through thorough discussion.

Textbooks/Supplies (Required):
Mass Media Law (19th Edition, 2014) by Don R. Pember & Clay Calvert. ISBN: 978-0-07-786142-1

pember calvert
Notes Guide is online at:

notes guide

Textbooks/Supplies (On Faculty Reserve in Library):
Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee by Nat Hentoff (For extra credit assignment if needed.)

free speech hentoff book

Course format:
The class will be primarily lecture and discussion. You should prepare for each class by reading the chapter(s) assigned. You should focus on the material covered by class lectures. You should be able to discuss the facts of a case and its point of law when called upon in class. Students will also be responsible for discussion of two cases at some time during the semester.

Exam 1: 25 percent
Exam 2: 25 percent
Exam 3: 25 percent
Case abstracts/class participation: 25 percent
Free Speech Essay: Extra credit available if you do poorly on one of the first two tests.

Grading criteria for written assignments and course in general:

90 – 100 (“A” & “A-”) On the written assignments, this means the paper is clear, organized coherently, and well-written. It is an effective discussion of the topic. It has no spelling, grammar, format, or accuracy errors. In terms of the course, this means you have almost perfect attendance, scores in this range on the tests, and have good questions and discussion in class.

80 – 89 (“B+”,”B”, & “B-”) On the written assignments, the paper is cohesive and well-organized, although it may have some minor spelling or grammatical errors. The discussion covers almost all of the important information and follows proper format. In terms of the course, this means you have good attendance, scores in this range on the tests, and have good questions and discussion in class.

70 – 79 (“C+” & “C”) On the written assignments, the paper is disorganized and contains many minor errors. The discussion missed some pertinent information or does not follow proper format. In terms of the course, this means you have poor attendance, scored in this range on the tests, and have not participated in class discussions.

60 – 69 (“D+” & “D”) On the written assignments, the paper ineffectively discusses the topic; it is not coherent or understandable. It contains an unacceptable number of spelling, grammar errors and/or inaccurate information or does not follow proper format. In terms of the course, this means you have missed more classes than you have attended, scored in this range on the tests, and have not participated in class discussions. Students may receive upper level elective credit with a D, but this course will not count among MCOM credits.

Below 60 (“F”)* The paper contains major factual error(s) related to the topic. The information presented is completely incorrect. The paper does not meet the requirements in page length, focus, or format. In terms of the course, this means you have missed more classes than you have attended, scored in this range on the tests, and have not participated in class discussions. If you are caught cheating in any way, you will automatically receive an F in the course. If you attend the final exam and your average is below 60, you will receive F rather than an FX.

(“FX”)* This is an administrative failure for non-attendance or failure to withdraw. If you do not withdraw from the course by Towson’s preset deadlines for the semester and stop attending the class, this is the grade you will receive.

(“I”) Incomplete. At Towson University, students may only receive an Incomplete with “verifiable medical reasons” and “where students have completed most of the term” (Towson University Undergraduate Catalog). I recommend a medical withdrawal over an incomplete.

* If you receive an F or FX, you may only repeat the course once. After repeating the course, students will only receive credit for the course once and the highest of the grades will be calculated. The lower grade will remain on the transcript with an “R” before it to indicate the course was repeated. For the transcript to reflect the repeated course, students MUST submit a Repeated Course Form to the Records Office. Transcript adjustments are NOT automatic (Towson University Undergraduate Catalog).

* Students may not attempt this course for a third time without prior permission from the Academic Standards Committee.

Guidelines for all assignments

* Late papers will lose up to a letter grade for each day they are late.
* Do not plagiarize, fabricate, or submit work you have done for another class.
Academic Dishonesty: I do not tolerate plagiarism or fabrication of any kind. You should adhere to the University’s policy on cheating and plagiarism. If you are caught breaking this policy, you will be prosecuted to the full extent that the policy allows. You should adhere to the highest possible standards of ethical behavior for this class.
* All assignments must be typed in the form requested and should contain your name, the date, and the assignment topic in the upper left-hand corner. (No folders or binders are necessary for assignments. Just staple the pages together.)
* Proofread and correctly edit your papers!

Student Athletes:
Within the first two weeks of class, you must have a letter from the coach explaining your place on the team and a schedule of any away games or competitions during the semester. You must take any tests or prepare any assignments that conflict with this schedule before the test or due date, not after.


EXAMS — These will be traditional tests with multiple choice, true-false, short answer and essay questions. The essay questions will focus on your ability to apply the legal concepts and cases you have learned in class to a hypothetical media law case. We work through hypotheticals in class to better understand how to apply the law. (Research shows that tests are good for your brain, so think of these as a good thing. 🙂 NY Times story about the topic:

CASE ABSTRACTS — You will select two cases from the list of cases that correspond to each chapter. Some cases are major turning points in case law and others are important because of a specific element. Your primary information should come from the textbook but you should supplement that with Library and Internet research. From your research you will write a 250-400 word abstract that includes the facts of the case and the final decision (and why it was decided that way) from the highest court that heard the case (usually the U.S. Supreme Court).

FREE SPEECH ESSAY (EXTRA CREDIT)— Select ONE CHAPTER in Nat Hentoff’s book, Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee, and write a reaction/response paper about it. This book recounts modern cases of censorship from all political factions. Don’t just recount the cases from the chapter, react to and apply cases from class or personal experiences in your essay. This paper should be at least 1000-1500 words, double spaced. Due last day of classes.


(Any schedule changes will be announced. Readings are for the week and should be read before attending class.)

January 30: Pember, Chap. 1, American Legal System; Supreme Court video;  Pember, Chap. 2-3, First Amendment

February 6: Pember, Chap. 2-3, First Amendment; Chap. 16 Telecommunications Regulation, pp. 640-645

February 13: Pember, Chap. 2-3, First Amendment; Chap. 16 Telecommunications Regulation, pp. 640-645

February 20: Pember, Chap. 2-3, First Amendment; Chap. 16 Telecommunications Regulation, pp. 640-645; Chap. 4-6, Libel

February 27: Pember, Chap. 4-6, Libel

March 6: Pember, Chap. 4-6, Libel; Pember Chap. 7-8, Privacy

March 13: Pember Chap. 7-8, Privacy

March 17-23: Spring Break

March 27:  Exam 1 (Chap. 1-6) 

April 3: Chap. 9, Gathering Information; Pember Chap. 10, Protecting sources

April 10:  Pember, Chap. 11-12, Free Press/Fair Trial

April 17: Pember, Chap. 11-12, Free Press/Fair Trial; Chap. 14, Copyright

April 24: Exam 2 (Chap 7-12)

May 1: Pember, Chap. 14, Copyright; Chap. 15, Advertising

May 8:  Pember, Chap. 15, Advertising; Chap. 13 Obscenity, pp. 503-515, 528-9 & Indecency, pp. 653-663

May 15: Exam 3, chapters 13-16, 5:15-7:15 p.m. 

Case abstracts

Note: Select only two for the term. Each student should research the case and write a 200-400 word abstract that includes the facts of the case and the final decision (and why it was decided that way) from the highest court that heard the case (usually the U.S. Supreme Court).

Chapter 2: First Amendment
Schenk v. U.S. (1919)
Rice v. Paladin Enterprises (1996)
Gitlow v. NY (1925)
Near v. Minnesota (1931)
NY Times v. U.S. (1971)
U.S. v. Progressive (1979)

Chapter 3: First Amendment
Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988)
Fraser v. Bethel (1986)
Morse v. Frederick (2006) (Bong hits for Jesus case)
Kincaid v. Gibson (2001)
Simon & Schuster v. NY Crime Victims Board (1991)
Chaplinsky v. NH (1942)
RAV v. St. Paul (1992)
Virginia v. Black (2003)

Chapters 4-6: Libel
Texas Beef Group v. Winfrey (1998)
NY Times v. Sullivan (1964)
Gertz v. Welch (1974)
Jewell v. Cox Enterprises (1999)
Hustler v. Falwell (1988)
Edwards v. National Audubon Society (1977)
Ollman v. Evans (1984)

Chapters 7-8: Privacy
Midler v. Ford Motor Co. (1988)
Cardtoons v. Major League Baseball Players Association (1996)
Shields v. Gross (1981) (Not in book)
Galella v. Onassis (1973)
Dietemann v. Time (1971)
Cox Broadcasting v. Cohn (1975)
Florida Star v. BJF (1989)
Barber v. Time (1942)
Virgil v. Sports Illustrated (1983)
Time v. Hill (1967)

Chapter 9: Gathering information – Records and Meetings
Baltimore Sun v. Ehrlich (2005)
Food Lion v. Capital Cities/ABC (1999)
U.S. v. Nixon (1974)

Chapter 10: Protection of Sources
Cohen v. Cowles Media Co. (1991)
Branzburg v. Hayes (1972)
Mobilisa Inc. v. Doe (2007)

Chapter 11-12: A Fair and Public Trial
Irvin v. Dowd (1961)
Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966)
Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976)
Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia (1980)
Estes v. Texas (1965)

Chapter 14: Copyright and Trademark
Basic Books v. Kinko’s graphics (1991)
Harper & Row v. Nation (1985)
Acuff-Rose Music v. Campbell (1994)
Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid (1989)
Tasini v. NY Times et al (1999)

Chapter 15: Advertising
Valentine v. Chrestensen (1942)
Bigelow v. Virginia (1975)
VA Board of Pharmacy v. VA Citizens Consumer Council (1976)
Central Hudson v. Public Service Comm. (1980)
Posados de Puerto Rico v. Tourism Co. of Puerto Rico
44 Liquormart case
Mainstream Marketing v. FTC (2004)
Braun v. Soldier of Fortune magazine (1993)

Chapter 13 & 16: Obscenity & Indecency
Miller v. California (1973)
U.S. v. American Library Assn. (2003)
FCC v. Pacifica (1978)


Earning a college degree is an endeavor that is preparing you for a future in a professional workplace. I expect you to display those qualities of professionalism in my classroom. Here are some policies and behaviors that I require you to follow:

• You will show respect to your fellow classmates and your professor. You will not belittle or laugh at others’ ideas or dominate discussions. The professor may eject you from class for any inappropriate or disruptive behavior.

• You will not interrupt or disrupt the class. This means all cell phones will be turned off during class and NO TEXTING! If you eat or drink during class, you will do so quietly and will always clean up after yourself by throwing away your trash. Leaving class to get food or beverage is a disruption. Only the restroom or an illness is an acceptable reason to leave the class. If you have a legitimate reason for leaving class early, please tell your professor before class and sit near the door.

• You will be counted absent if you are more than 15 minutes late for class. You will be counted absent if you sleep in class, or leave class and don’t return.

• Because this is a once-a-week class, you are allowed only 2 unexcused absences. After that, you must bring in documentation, i.e. a signed doctor’s note or a signed health center note. However, please DO NOT attend class if you are contagious; we do not want your illness. In the case of car or traffic-related absences, you must bring a car repair bill or towing bill. (Not being able to find a place to park on Towson’s campus is NOT an excused absence.) In the case of a death-related absence, please call or email before you attend the funeral and give me the name of the deceased. The key to an excused absence is proper documentation.

• Any UMS-recognized religious holiday is an excused absence, and the work missed can be made up. However, please inform your professor that you will be out of class and arrange to get the make-up work. Please obtain any missed notes from a fellow classmate.

• Work-related or internship-related absences are NOT excused. Do not sign up for a class that conflicts with your work/internship schedule, or if you do not have the free time to complete required outside class assignments.

• It is your responsibility to make up any missed work due to an absence. Please get to know your classmates and ask them first. The professor will discuss make-up work before or after class or during office hours, not during class time.

• You, not the professor, are responsible for your grade. If you do not complete an assignment, you will receive a zero.

• Do not attend class if you have been drinking or taking illegal drugs. If you do so, the campus police will be called and you will be asked to leave class.

• Never lie, cheat, plagiarize, or fabricate. A mature person asks for help, rather than taking these unethical “shortcuts.” If your professor cannot give you the help you need, then she will refer you to the numerous on-campus resources, such as tutoring services or the Writing Center. If the class is still too difficult for you, become self aware enough to understand when or if you should drop or withdraw from the class. There is no shame in withdrawing from a class and taking it another semester.

• Respect yourself enough to try your best, and the professor will respect you, too.

Academic Integrity Policy

All student work including assignments, presentations, and tests must adhere to the university’s Student Academic Integrity Policy The policy addresses such academic integrity issues as plagiarism, fabrication, falsification, cheating, complicity in dishonesty, abuse of academic materials, and multiple submissions. See the last page of this syllabus for the department’s policy concerning plagiarism and cheating. Penalties to violation of academic integrity ranges from F for the assignment to F for the course, in addition to a report filed in the Office of Student Conduct and Civility Education.

COFAC Civility Code and classroom behavior

COFAC places a priority on learning. We value the inherent worth and dignity of every person, thereby fostering a community of mutual respect. Students have the right to a learning environment free of disruptive behaviors and offensive comments. Faculty have the right to define appropriate behavioral expectations in the classroom and expect students to abide by them. Faculty have the responsibility to manage and address classroom disruption. Staff have the right and responsibility to define appropriate behaviors necessary to conduct any university activity free of disruption or obstruction.

We believe that in order to achieve these ideals, all COFAC students, staff, and faculty are expected to exhibit and practice civil behaviors that exemplify: (1) respecting faculty, staff, fellow students, guests, and all university property, policies, rules and regulations; (2) taking responsibility for one’s choices, actions and comments; (3) delivering correspondence – whether verbal, nonverbal, written, or electronic – with respectful language using professional writing standards and etiquette; and (4) accepting consequences of one’s choices and actions. The use of offensive, threatening or abusive language, writing, or behavior will not be tolerated and can lead to academic dismissal. Further information about civility can be found in Appendix F of the university catalog.

Examples demonstrating civility in the classroom as a student include:

  • Being respectful of the professor and other students.
  • Not texting or using cellular phones and other electronic devices.
  • Not using your laptop for activities other than class work.
  • Not eating or drinking in class.
  • Not reading things unrelated to class or listening to music during the class.
  • Not sleeping in class.

Examples demonstrating civility in the classroom as a faculty member include:

  • Being respectful of the students.
  • Attempting to understand individual student needs and learning styles.
  • Discussing civil behavioral expectations during the first class.
  • Taking time to talk with students whose behaviors negatively affect the classroom.
  • Encouraging students to follow your civil behavior.

Liability Statement

In all assignments, students must comply with all laws and the legal rights of others (e.g. copyright, obscenity, privacy and defamation) and with all Towson University policies (e.g. academic dishonesty). Towson University is not liable or responsible for the content of any student assignments, regardless of where they are posted.

Students with Disabilities Policy

This course is in compliance with Towson University policies for students with disabilities as described in Students with disabilities are encouraged to register with Disability Support Services (DSS), 7720 York Road, Suite 232, 410-704-2638 (Voice) or 410-704-4423 (TDD). Students who suspect that they have a disability but do not have documentation are encouraged to contact DSS for advice on how to obtain appropriate evaluation. A memo from DSS authorizing your accommodation is needed before any accommodation can be made.

Weapons Policy

To promote a safe and secure campus, Towson University prohibits the possession or control of any weapon while on university property. See the university policy at

College of Fine Arts and Communication
Department of Mass Communication
Towson, MD 21252
TO: All Students in the Department Of Mass Communication
FROM: Department Faculty

The Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies adheres to the following policy regarding plagiarism:

1. Any words or images taken directly from another source (including the Internet) must be footnoted or cited and in quotation marks. Similarly, in oral presentations, attributions must be clear.

2. Any ideas derived from a source not in the public domain or of general knowledge must be clearly attributed.

3. Any paraphrased material must be footnoted or cited. In oral presentations, attributions must be clear.

4. All papers and presentations must be the student’s own work. Submission of papers or presentations authored by others, even with their consent, constitutes plagiarism.

Any student found plagiarizing in any of the above ways will receive an automatic “F” for the assignment and may receive an “F” for the course. Documented evidence of the plagiarism will be kept in the department office, and will be reported to the Office of Judicial Affairs.

Any student discovered soliciting others to write a paper, speech, test, or other assignment for that student will receive an automatic “F” for the course.

There are ambiguities in concepts of plagiarism. Faculty will be available for consultation regarding any confusion a student may have.

Most students are careful to avoid blatant plagiarism, the unacknowledged copying of exact words of the source. However, students must also be aware that the concept of plagiarism extends not only to wording but to patterns or sequences of ideas. If you paraphrase without acknowledgement, using the same sequence or structure as the original author, then you are plagiarizing.

Students have the right to appeal a charge of plagiarism. An appeal starts with the chairperson of the department.

The Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies has adopted the following policy regarding cheating:


Revised 1-11-05