Media Law and Ethics
COMS 400 Syllabus
Who: Prof. Bill Kovarik, Ph.D.
Email wkovarik at radford dot edu
Office M-W 1-2:30, 704 Fairfax basement, or by appointment
What: 3 credits regular course, Prerequisite: COMS 130 and COMS 230, or permission of instructor. Examination of basic legal concepts and legal problems affecting mass media and media professionals. Includes case studies from the areas of constitutional law, statutory law and regulatory agency decisions. Principles and case studies in mass media ethics explored.
Where & When: Russell Hall 007, 11-12:15 T-Th
What you will learn in this class:
- What freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly means in the US and the world.
- How US law protects you and your ability to act responsibly and ethically. Avoiding harm is not enough. You want to respect and protect freedom and you need to rely on the law to help you.
- How to avoid doing harm in your work. You will learn how to recognize and avoid defamation, invasion of privacy, copyright infringement and other legal pitfalls.
- How to appreciate the strengths and flaws of media law, both in the US and internationally.
- Wayne Overbeck, Major Principles of Media Law (Any edition since 2001, but the newer the better ) ISBN: 0534620051
- Chapter quizzes (D2L) – 15%
- Case briefs, attendance, other class participation – 10%
- Mid Term – 25%
- Final Exam – 25%
- Moot court brief (class paper) – 25%
1 Introduction to communications law and the legal system
Chs. 1 (introduction) and 13 (First Amendment and Higher Education)
Web linked supplemental reading: Four cases that changed history
Homework: Take D2L Q1. Overview of law
2 Ch. 2 & 3 Legacy of Freedom and Prior Restraint (censorship)
Web linked supplemental reading: On Free Speech in History
Homework: Take D2L Q2. History and D2L Q3 Prior Restraint
3 Ch. 4 Defamation / Libel and Slander
Homework: Read Ch. 4
First case brief due
4 Additional discussion of defamation law
International law of defamation
Homework: Take Q4 Libel
5 Ch. 5 Privacy
Homework: Take Q5. Privacy
Second case brief due
6 Ch. 6 Copyright — Intellectual Property and the Open Source movement
Homework: Take Q6 Intellectual property (Oct. 3 no class / instructor conference)
7 Ethics (readings on the web)
Homework: Take Q7 Ethics This is a written quiz based on the ethical guidelines for your professional group.
8 Mid Term Exam
9 Ch. 13 Advertising case law and FTC regulation
Homework: Take Q8
Also, how to write a legal brief, how Moot Court works
10 Reporting news — Ch. 7 Free press fair trial
Ch. 8 Privilege, Ch. 9 Freedom of Information
Homework: TakeQ8 (Chs. 7 – 9)
11 Ch 11. Regulation of Electronic Media
Homework: Take Q9
Moot court briefs due Nov 11
12 Ch. 10 Obscenity
Homework: Take Q10
Dec 3, 5
- Attendance policy: Absence of more than 10 percent of the class will result in corresponding percent decreases in the grade. Missing more than 40 percent of the class would mean an F for an otherwise A student.
- Late policy: Late completion of projects will result in reduction of your grade by one letter grade per week.
- Honor Code: By accepting admission to Radford University, each students makes a commitment to understand, support and abide by the University Honor Code without compromise or exception.
- Plagiarism — Students who directly copy work from anyone else will flunk the class and be reported to the Dean of Students office.
- Disabilities policy: If you are seeking academic accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act at Radford University, you are required to register with the Disability Resource Office (DRO). To receive academic accommodations for this class, please submit your documentation to the DRO in the lower level of Tyler Hall Suites 54-69, by fax to 540-831-6525, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. After submitting documentation to our office, you will set up an interview with a Disability Services Specialist to discuss accommodations. You will be notified via email once your accommodation package is complete and ready to be picked up. Once you have picked up your accommodation package, you will need to meet with each course professor during their office hours to review and discuss your package. For more information and/or for documentation guidelines, visit www.radford.edu/dro or call 540-831-6350.