Media law

Statue of Justice at the US Supreme Court

Library of Congress photo

Media Law and Ethics

Who: Prof. Bill Kovarik, Ph.D.

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:  

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%

Weekly Schedule

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   

Moot court


  • 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).





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