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Media Law

This guide contains information and resources about media law.

Statutes

Federal Statutes

The United States Code (U.S.C.) is available in a number of locations, such as in print in the library [KF62 .A2] and on GovInfo.gov.

Annotated codes, such as the U.S.C.A. (United States Code Annotated), which is available on Westlaw Edge, and the U.S.C.S. (United States Code Service), which is available on Lexis+, are useful research tools. In addition to the text of the statute, an annotated code includes notes and commentary on the law, such as summaries of relevant judicial decisions and citations to secondary sources that discuss the statute.

Below are examples of major federal laws that are related to media law topics (hyperlinks to the entire law as it was passed). Make sure to check the US Code for the current codification of the law.

State Statutes

There are many media law topics that are found in state statutory law. To locate state law, identify the state statutory code and search by keyword, topic, or popular name of the law.

  • Anti-SLAPP statutes
  • Defamation statutes
  • Open government laws

50 State Surveys

A 50 State Survey is a compiled list of laws across all 50 states on a particular topic. 50 State surveys can be very useful for areas of media governed by state law and may save hours of time involved in researching a topic from the beginning.  However, topics with surveys available are limited, and the compiled laws should be updated and verified before relying on them. The following resources provide access to compiled 50 State Surveys on privacy law topics:

Regulations

Regulations

Media law is an area of law that is heavily regulated by administrative agencies, such as the the Federal Communications Commission's regulation of tv, radio, cable, etc. and the Federal Trade Commission's regulation of consumer protection. 

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is available electronically via GovInfo.gov and ecfr.gov.  For older versions of the CFR, visit HeinOnline.  The CFR on Westlaw Edge and Lexis+ contains annotations, meaning it contains citations to relevant cases, statutes, and secondary sources.

  • Regulations governing media law and commercial speech may be found in Titles 16 and 47 of the CFR. Regulations governing trademarks and copyright may be found in Title 37 of the CFR.

Before a final rule is published in the CFR, administrative agencies publish notices, proposed rules, and final regulations in the Federal Register.  The Federal Register is available electronically via FederalRegister.gov and GovInfo.gov.  For older versions, visit HeinOnline.

Administrative Agencies

Federal Agencies

Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Federal Communications Commission is the administrative agency that regulates communications in the US (radio, television, satellite, wire, and cable). For more information about the FCC, visit the About the FCC page. The website contains information regarding agency proceedings and actions, including access to the electronic comment filing system (ECFS) and commission documents (EDOCS), as well as reports and research that the FCC has done. There is also information for consumers in the Consumer Help Center.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This administrative agency regulates consumer protection. This is related to media law via commercial speech. For information regarding the FTC, visit the agency's About the FTC page. The FTC's website has a database of enforcement actions, including both cases and proceedings, as well as links to rules and statutes that the agency enforces. There is also a Policy page that contains reports, studies, and advisory opinions. Further, there is a Tips & Advice page that can provide help for consumer, businesses, and military consumers.

United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO is the federal agency that grants patents and registers trademarks.  The USPTO's website has a number of resources, such as information regarding trademark basics, the application process, the trademark database for searching registered trademarks, a glossary of intellectual property terminology, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, and other resources.

United States Copyright Office. The US Copyright Office is a federal department within the Library of Congress.  The Copyright Office website has a number of resources, such as the Copyright Public Records Catalog, the Fair Use Index, copyright laws and regulations, forms, as well as other resources and information regarding copyright law.

Finding Cases

Court Opinions

Court opinions can be a rich source of information on media law. Court opinions help to interpret and apply statutory law at the state and federal level, and in some areas common law provides a remedy for issues of concern to the media.

Starting Points for Finding Cases

Case Filings

Federal Court Dockets and Filings

The filings from a case (such as motions, hearings, and orders) are an excellent source of information when you are studying a particular case in detail or if you are studying an ongoing case. The case docket allows you to view the filings for a particular case. Bloomberg Law is an excellent source for online access to court records and dockets as it pulls information directly from PACER, the online docket access platform for Federal courts.

State Court Dockets & Filings

Many appellate state courts provide access to court dockets and records through the court website. Access to trial court records is not widely available. A list of state court docket access points is available through the National Center for State Courts, but the site is not regularly updated. Be sure to investigate whether a court provides access to dockets by visiting the court website.