Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.” Q: Am I required to explain why I want a particular record when submitting an open records request? A: Almost always, states and the federal government FOI laws make clear that the motivation behind an open records request is irrelevant.… Continue reading When I request records, do I have to explain why I want them?
Q: I am hearing rumors that a recently hired school official was fired from his job at a public college in another state and would like to find out more. Do I need to be a citizen of that state to request records? A: In most cases no. The vast majority of states do not require… Continue reading Do I need to be a citizen of a state to request records there?
Q: Is there an age limit for requesting public records under an open records law? A: Currently, Louisiana is the only state that requires a requester be the “age of majority,” which in Louisiana is currently 18. Likewise, there is no age requirement to request federal records under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Every… Continue reading Is there an age limit for requesting public records?
Q: A professor recently committed suicide at my school. Rumors abound that he had been caught up in a financial scandal, but he’s obviously no longer around to interview. Is it possible to libel a dead person? A: No. While a person’s estate can continue to pursue a libel claim filed by a person before his… Continue reading Can you libel a dead person?
Q: Can the principal of my school suspend me for a social media post on my private account during non-school hours? A: Probably not, but there is reason to be cautious about this type of behavior. There was a time when the line between on- and off-campus activities was clear. And generally so was the law.… Continue reading Can I be suspended for a social media post?
Q: Are student government election results at a public high school public records? My school only announces who won and does not provide the actual vote tally. A: The answer will probably depend on the wording of your state’s open records law. In the only case we are aware of to date, the Virginia State Supreme Court declined to… Continue reading Are student government election results at a public high school public records?
Q: I am the editor of a public high school yearbook. An advertiser — a local real estate agent — submitted a family photo as part of his ad. In it, he is holding a hunting rifle (we live in hunting country.) Given the many incidents of gun-related school violence I asked for a different photo, but… Continue reading Ask SPLC: An advertiser wants to include a photo of himself holding a gun. Can we say no?
Q: One of my photographers took a photo of some school employees smoking outside the school lunchroom. Can we publish the photo or would that be invading their privacy? A: School employees have much the same privacy rights as anyone else. There are certain places (bathrooms, private office, other private spaces not generally accessible to the public,… Continue reading Ask SPLC: Can we publish a photo of school employees smoking outside the lunchroom?
Q: Does including “in my opinion” protect me from a libel or defamation suit? A: Including the phrase “in my opinion” — for example, “In my opinion, the coach is a cheater” — does not create an automatic shield to libel. Neither does simply reprinting what someone else has said by saying something like, “‘The coach is a… Continue reading Ask SPLC: Does including “in my opinion” protect me from a libel or defamation suit?
Q: Our college TV station recently covered auditions for our college's dance team. The student editor was unaware that the song playing in the background of the video was copyrighted when she created the video. The piece is edited with several cuts and you don’t ever hear a full song played. Can we air the… Continue reading Ask SPLC: Can we use a video clip that had a copyrighted song playing in the background?