What is the International Modern Media Institute?
The International Modern Media Institute is a not-for-profit foundation operating in Iceland, with the stated goal to research and promote improved media legislation around the world. Founded in 2011 to address the growing need in Iceland and internationally, it is the descendant and natural progression of the synonymous Icelandic Modern Media Initiative. See About IMMI for further details.
What is the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative?
In 2010 a group of free speech and digital rights activists, lawmakers, and civil society organizations convened in Reykjavík, Iceland and within the space of etherpad, with the goal to create a collection of the worlds strongest media and free speech protection laws. With the goal to make the laws implemented in the small north-Atlantic state of Iceland. By assessing the greatest threats to media freedoms and addressing each by looking at well made and successful laws from around the world, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative promised to open up the philosophical discussion of free speech protection while offering Iceland new opportunities for social development and financial gain.
Why has IMMI not been made into law?
IMMI is a parliamentary proposal tasking the Icelandic Government to make the needed legal changes to each category in order to make Iceland into a save haven. See the most recent Status report. There is an appointed IMMI steering committee working at research and legal drafts in the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Their work has been slowed down because of lack of funds towards it in the state budget for this year. The Institute is thus also preparing legal drafts that will be put forward when the Icelandic parliament resume meetings in September 2014.
What is included in the proposal?
An ultra-modern Freedom of Information Act
Based on the 2009 CoE and OAS recommendations as well as modern elements in the FOI laws of Estonia, Scotland, the UK and Norway as well as the Aarhus treaty. (scope: Iceland)
Protection for those who step forward to reveal important matters in the public interest, based on the U.S. False Claims Act and the U.S. Military Whistleblowers Act. (scope: Iceland)
Protection for anonymous sources who attempt to communicate to the public after a promise of confidentiality by a journalist or media organization. Based on new EEA legislation.
Source-journalist communications protection
Protection for the communications between an anonymous source and a media organization and internally within a media organization prior to publication. Based on the Belgium source protection law of 2005.
Limiting prior restraint
Prior restraint is coercion of a publisher, by a government authority, or through the judicial system, to prevent publication of a specific matter. While the Icelandic Constitution provides the right to freedom of expression, small modifications are needed to reduce the possibility of prior restraint.
Protection of intermediaries (internet service providers)
Immunity for “mere conduits”, ISPs and telecommunications carriers.
Protection from “libel tourism” and other extrajudicial abuses
Non-observance of foreign judgments that violate Icelandic freedom of expression protection, and the ability to file a counter-suit in Iceland against a party who engages in a calculated attempt to suppress the speech freedoms of an Icelandic entity. Inspired by legislation passed by the states of New York and Florida and proposed legislation elsewhere.
Statute of limitations on publishing liabilities
Recent rulings in Europe maintain that, for a internet publications, each page view is publication afresh, regardless of how long ago the material was first released. This has resulted in the silent removal of investigative newspaper stories, including those over five years old, from the on-line archives of the Guardian and and other major newspapers.
The majority of legal suits related to publishing settle before final judgment. Hence, the court process itself must ensure that it is not used to suppress speech through unequal access to justice, subpoenas or other interlocutory motions. Process protections (called anti-SLAPP laws in the U.S.) permit a judge to declare the matter a free speech related case, at which point protections are activated to prevent such abuses.
Virtual limited liability companies
Based on the LLC legislation used in the U.S. state of Vermont.
The Icelandic Prize for Freedom of Expression
Iceland’s first internationally visible prize.
Why couldn’t IMMI protect Snowden?
IMMI was never drafted to help whistleblowers with asylum in Iceland. It was created to make sure that the material that whistleblowers, bloggers, journalists and sources risked their lives in making available in the public domain would stay online, no matter what. It was created in order to make sure that journalists would’t have to disclose who their source is and it was created to offer protection for those that host material. The Institute however tried to facilitate the needed help for Snowden when he asked for asylum, there was however no political will within the Icelandic government at the time. There is urgently needed a global treaty that will protect whistleblowers such as Snowden from the ordeal he has been going through.
Can Icelandic laws protect journalists, bloggers and sources from other countries?
At first glance it would seem that any particular nation state’s laws can only affect the behavior of its own citizens and companies. However, because the world is economically and culturally connected, experience shows that the laws of one nation can affect the behavior of persons in another. Indeed, that is how, on the opposite side of the equation, “libel tourists” are able to abuse states with poor press protection laws to suppress freedom of expression in other countries. Even halfway around the world, libel laws have the power to silence dissent. English science writer Simon Singh discovered this when he was interviewed by an Australian journalist about a book he had co-written, “Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial”. The journalist went off to write a story about homeopathy, only to have the newspaper’s lawyers kill it before publication. They were worried about being charged with defamation in London, almost 20,000 km away. However these transborder effects can also be used to protect freedom of expression. For instance, the Swedish Press Freedom Act, on which part of the IMMI source protection requirements were modeled, requires that journalists & media organizations who promise confidentiality to sources must keep their promise. If they do not, a source has the right to initiate a criminal prosecution against them in Sweden (penality six months imprisonment). This strong protection assists not only source, it is also likey to aid journalists operating in other countries which have a meaningful publishing relationship with Sweden.
There is directly analogous jurisprudence involving the confidentiality relationships of bankers, lawyers and accountants engaged with secrecy jurisdictions such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. In the Australian case of MPII vs. Sharman Networks (Kazaa) (2004-2006) a visiting foreign accountant was asked to testify as to the true owner of a Vanuatu registered company. The litigation arose out a dispute between record companies and the Kazaa file-sharing network. The record company plaintiffs wanted to know who the true owners were of Sharman Networks, a Kazaa-affiliated company registered in Vanuatu, a corporate secrecy jurisdiction. During the case, which was held in Sydney, Sharman’s Vanuatu account visited Sydney. He was compelled to stand before the court and was then asked to reveal the beneficial owners of Sharman. The accountant refused, citing Vanuatu corporate secrecy law–to testify would be to commit a crime in Vanuatu for which a Sydney court could provide no remedy. It can also be argued that police and judicial officers who coerce others into breaking mandated confidences may be party to an extraterritorial crime. Whether this argument is sound in any particular jurisdiction is largely irrelevant as it has been shown to work in practice. Judicial officers and bureaucrats do not want to take the risk of spending their time in litigation. Neither do they wish to risk imprisonment when traveling or asset seizure. In the Sharman case, the court accepted these arguments and did not compel the accountant to testify.
Who stands to benefit from the proposal?
Various parties can be seen to benefit directly from the proposal, including sources, journalists, publishers, human rights organizations, Internet service providers, free speech activists and privacy advocates.
Can something similar be done in my country?
As this proposal assembles the strongest international protection laws, it can for the most part be easily applied to almost any legal system. It is of course easier to make this kind of proposal in countries with small legislative bodies, high levels of education, relatively low levels of corruption, and fast moving governments, but with enough focused effort this proposal can be applied virtually anywhere. It is our hope that this model be copied elsewhere.
What and where is Iceland?
Iceland, population 317,000, is a modern Western liberal democracy located in the north Atlantic. It is about the size of Ireland and lies midway between North America and Europe. In 2007, Iceland was ranked as the most developed country in the world by the United Nations Human Development Index. In late 2008, following the financial crisis in the United States, the country nationalized its three largest banks which were at risk of insolvency. Related events saw unprecedented protests in the capital of Reykjavik and a new government was elected in April 2009.
Iceland is a great place to run large internet sites. It has cheap 100% green power, natural cooling, plenty of bandwidth and is close to both Europe and the east cost of the United States. It is within the European Economic Area and the Schengen zone, has an educated young workforce and a 15% company tax.
According to the World Press Freedom Index 2014, Iceland ranks 8th of the top 10 countries.
What about restrictions on child pornography?
The proposal does not touch existing Icelandic/EEA restrictions.
What about restrictions on commercial copyrights?
The proposal does not touch existing Icelandic/EEA restrictions.