have a question? email the prof @ bc at

Week-by-week | Course blog | U.S. Supreme Court blog | RCFP news | Class photo

Paper topics and research resources| Paper projects SPRING 2021

Note: This page will change; please refer to it frequently (and not merely print it out the first week of class).

Lose your paper syllabus? Download another one | The Berry COM jobs/internships site


In COM 416 we will examine the delicate balance that exists between freedom and control of media in the United States. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is the major guarantee of freedom of expression. Because the courts, especially the U.S. Supreme Court, are ultimately responsible for interpreting the First Amendment and maintaining the balance between freedom and control, our study will focus on judicial decisions and reasoning. It is essential to recognize, though, that other very significant sources of press freedoms and controls exist. Therefore, we also will consider other factors that influence the balance between freedom and control of mediated communication, including statutory law, executive and administrative actions, and ethical concerns. Non-Communication majors, please note that this course does not take a case study approach, though judicial case review is an emphasis.

Pre-reqs: RHW 102, COM 220, or CI.

Course objectives:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
--The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

What you will need (required):

What you may want (not required):

Stuff you need to know:
Instructor: Dr. Brian Carroll
Office: Laughlin Hall 100
Office phone: 706.368.6944 (anytime)
Home page:
Office hours: MWF noon-2 pm; TUE 10-2 pm or by appointment or just drop by

Course website and online syllabus (refer to it daily; do not merely print it out the first week of class; it will change):

Course blog: (for posts related to our class discussions, legal news of the day, and sources and items that might benefit your research projects)


How you will be graded:

Two exams (midterm, final) 50% total (or 25% each)
Research paper 40% (breakdown below)
Professionalism and participation 10%

To compute your final grade, add up your point totals, apply the appropriate percentages, then refer to the grading system summarized here:

59 and below

Definitions of the grades can be found in the Berry College Bulletin. “A” students will demonstrate an outstanding mastery of course material and will perform far above that required for credit in the course and far above that usually seen in the course. The “A” grade should be awarded sparingly and should identify student performance that is relatively unusual in the course.

Course assignments

Exams: The instructor favors short answer and essay questions. However, depending on class size, it is possible that machine-graded answer sheets will be used. You might, therefore, be tested using multiple-choice and true/false questions, as well.

Mock trials: A few times during the semester, you will try a case. You will familiarize yourself with the facts of the case and the legal questions in play. You will, as a member of a legal team comprised of your classmates, argue an outcome before the judge (the instructor). Preparation and participation in these mock trials, which previous classes have found rewarding and even fun, are components of your professionalism and participation grade.

Research paper: In most cases, students will choose a media-related legal case that has not yet been decided at the U. S. Supreme Court level. Students will argue one side or the other, but remember that we are champions of the First Amendment. Students will need to read the actual court documents; these are the primary sources. Students will base arguments on research found in peer-reviewed law journals and reviews. This paper will, therefore, be persuasive in nature, demonstrating research in support of a legal position on a mass media-related legal issue.

The paper should be typed in 12-point Times New Roman. The format should be double-spaced. The length should be about 10 pages (give or take a page). Style guidelines will be discussed in class, but generally the style used is up to the author. Simply identify somewhere on the paper the style that is in effect. The important thing is to choose one (APA, MLA, Blue Book, or Chicago), then to strictly and consistently adhere to that style.

Both your topic and your approach or argument must be approved by the professor. This is to protect you. If for the topic (and title) submission you do not have a workable topic, one may be assigned to you. Again, this is to help you. Students in the past have surrendered precious research time floundering with a complex topic. A full bibliography must accompany the paper or the paper will not be graded. Copies of the full peer-reviewed articles might be requested, as well.

Finally, the student’s signature somewhere on the submitted paper is required and will signify adherence to the Honor Code.

The 40% weight assigned to the research project breaks down in this way:

topic/paper title (the name of your dish) 10 points
paper outline (your recipe) 10 points
tentative bibliography (a list of your ingredients) 15 points
rough draft & peer editing (doing some cooking) 15 points
final paper (your dish) 50 points
100 points

Your final point total (X/100) will be multplied by .40 to yield the 40% component of your final course grade.

Academic Success Resources

Consultants at the Berry College Writing Center are available to assist students with all stages of the writing process. To schedule an appointment, visit The Academic Success Center provides free peer tutoring and individual academic consultations to all Berry College students. The ASC Session schedule is available on ASC Website:

Accommodation Statement

The Academic Success Center provides accessibility resources, including academic accommodations, to students with diagnosed differences and/or disabilities.  If you need accommodations for this or other classes, please visit for information and resources.  You may also reach out at 706-233-40480.  Please note, faculty are not required, as part of any temporary or long-term accommodation, to distribute recordings of class sessions. 

Finally, I believe we are here for a good time, not a long time, so let’s have some fun!


(subject to change, so check back frequently, regularly)

Topics & Cases

Week 1: Jan. 9

Introductions, syllabus, key course concepts

What is law for? What does it do? How does it do these things?

The Rule of Law and the American Legal System

>>Babson College prof fired for 'bad joke'

Read: Course outline and syllabus; Trager textbook, Ch. 1; Jefferson on religious freedom

>Meet USSC justice Sonia Sotomayor
>Meet USSC justice Clarence Thomas
>Meet former USSC justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Week 2: Jan. 16

The First Amendment

NO CLASS Monday: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Read: Trager, Ch. 2; Bill of Rights; Areopagitica by John Milton (.pdf download) | Justice Clarence Thomas & stare decisis | Analysis of Thomas's opinions

Artifacts: Analysis of Bilbo Baggins's Hobbit contract | Most important decisions of the 2018 USSC term

Week 3: Jan. 23

The First Amendment

Sasha Baron Cohen on disinformation and hate
Madonna on blowing up the White House
Trump's speech on Jan. 6

Special guest on Monday: Jeremy Worsham, for help with Westlaw database

Read: Trager, Chs. 2 & 3; Three Principles of Academic Honesty (Word .doc) (quiz possible)

View: Plagiarism tutorial (quiz possible)

Sample paper topic submission (1) (PDF)
Sample paper topic submission (2) (PDF)

Rubric for paper topic submission (PDF)

Week 4: Jan. 30

Incorporation and Incitement (handout here)

Barron v. Baltimore | Schenck v. U.S. | Abrams v. U.S.

The Red Scare (The Smith Act): McCarthy hearings


Read: Trager, Ch. 3

Due Monday: Topic/paper title. Typed up, printed out and turned in (no email)

Due Friday: Topic submission re-submits


Week 5: Feb. 6

Incitement (NY Times on the impeachment), finishing up incorporation

No Class Friday: Dr. Carroll at Duke University

Read: Trager, Ch. 3

Due Monday: Legal memo as a member of the DOJ on whether former president should be prosecuted for incitement (two examples here)


Week 6: Feb. 13

Freedom of expression in our schools (speech and dress codes, protest, student media, school regulation of private social media conent)

Resources: Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier; Hosty v. Carter | How to protest on your campus

Read: Ch. 3

Due Wednesday: Research paper bibliographies. Typed up, printed out (no emailed submissions, please).

Sample law paper bibliography (need at least 5 peer-reviewed or refereed law review/journal articles)
Second bibliography example
Third bibliography example
Fourth example
Fifth example

Rubric for bibliography (PDF)

Artifacts: Stealing newspapers is in fact theft | A new low in student press freedom, at UK | Women's team response, in the Harvard Crimson | Award-winning podcast from University of Oklahoma on expression rights at a public university | Sex issue at Washington University | porn issue at Evergreen State AND update: Wesleyan newspaper has funding cut

Week 7: Feb. 20

Obscenity & indecency | Hate speech | Whistle-blowers | Speech codes | Offensive speech | Murderabilia | Critical Race Theory, book banning & the marketplace of ideas

Resources: Post-election, hate-motivated campus incidents | RAV v. St. Paul

Read: Trager, Chs. 3, 10

Due Monday: bibliography re-submits. Typed up, printed out (no email submissions, please).

Listen to The Daily on Gonzalez and pressures on Section 230 of the CDA and, by extension, on social media platforms

Week 8: Feb. 27

Libel (a contemporary example)

NOTE: Libel will NOT be covered on the midterm examination

Is this libel?

Cases: Gertz v. Welch | Cases: New York Times v. Sullivan | the Times ad

Spring Break March 6-10!

Read: Trager, Chs. 4-5; BC's journal article on anonymous online speech that defames; John Oliver on SLAPP suits and anti-SLAPP suit laws | How to cite a law case

Due Wednesday: paper outlines. Typed up, printed out and turned in (no email).

Sample paper outline 1 (Word .doc)
Sample paper outline 2 (Word .doc)

Best handout of the course: Tips for better law papers (PDF)

Week 9: March 13


Where would you draw the line? and 12 million phones: Zero privacy From the New York Times's Privacy Project | Facial recognition scraping and the death of privacy | Disney and faceprints (thank you, Alana!)

Read: Trager, Ch. 6

Due Monday: outline re-submits, if any

Artifacts: The Right to Be Forgotten (John Oliver) | Do Not Track collaborative documentary project | Publication of Private Facts on NPR | Has FB allowed a breach of your privacy? (The Chronicle of Higher Ed) | Opt-in/opt-out: New rules for broadband providers | FCC's fact sheet on the new rules

Week 10: March 20

Gathering Information, Source Confidentiality, Shield & Reporter's Privilege, Sunshine Laws

Cases: Branzburg v. Hayes

The Excorcism

Dr. Carroll's column on Florida's Anti-Woke Statute

Read: Trager, Ch. 7

Resources: Freedom of Information Act wiki from RCFP | Georgia Sunshine Laws; Freedom of Information Act | How to File a FOIA Request | ACLU guidelines for "Know Your Rights", including in public spaces/protests | CQ on federal shield law (pps. 1-15); Article on protecting sources (Toobin) | The Sunlight Foundation | The Clery Act at Penn State | Legal Guide for Bloggers

Week 11: March 27

Free press/Free trial

Case: Sheppard v. Maxwell

Georgia's state (qualified privilege) shield law

Read: Trager Ch. 8

Due Monday: smooth drafts to the prof; workshop partners get them Monday

Sample paper 1 (Word .doc)
Sample paper 2 (Word .doc)
Sample paper 3 (Word .doc)
Sample paper 4 (Word .doc)

Law paper checklist (Word .doc)

Artifacts: Is this what you want? | hee-hee | The Liberty Tree Week highlight reel

Week 12: April 3

FCC regulation of broadcast

The current state of net neutrality | John Oliver on net neutrality

TUESDAY, April 4: FREEDOM SINGS! in Barnwell Chapel, 7pm, CE credit to be applied for

Read: Trager Ch. 9

Due Monday: Reactions, workshop reports, marked up manuscripts

Draft Workshop Guidelines (.pdf download)
Workshop Report (what you will submit; .doc download)

Spectrum Allocation Chart

Week 13: April 10

FTC regulation of advertising (or commercial speech)

Case: Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council

VikingFusion coverage of CRT night by Emily and Alex
Liberty Tree/Freedom Sings highlight reel from 2009

Read: Trager Ch. 12

Due Monday: Final, finished law paper, both hard copy to professor and posted to Canvas for TurnItIn report, with honor pledge signature on hard copy and bibliography

Week 14: April 17

Copyright & Intellectual Property law

>>Copyright notes digest

Read: Trager, Ch. 11

Artifacts: Explanation of Fair Use via YouTube

Week 15: April 24

Copyright & Intellectual Property



Final Exam: TBA

Your study guide for the final exam

Graduation: Saturday, May 6

pepp patty

keep your eyes on the prize!

Paper Topic Ideas and Media Law Resources

In need of a paper topic? These sites present current news about the media and the law. Check these daily because the content changes.

AEJMC law paper abstracts: From the Association for Educators in Journalism & Mass Communication, this page lists accepted paper abstracts for AEJ's law division, papers that were presented at the annual convention. Scroll down to "Law Division." There are also abstracts available for previous AEJMC conventions.

Amicus:'s podcast series on (mostly) the U.S. Supreme Court, but with a current events spin or angle. Good source for thinking about possible paper topics.

Citizen Action Project: Provides researchers with direct access to state laws, audits, state freedom of information experts and access laws, among many other things. Information covers all 50 states, so an excellent resource for anyone doing a project on one or more states.

Citizen Media Law Project : Legal Resources for citizen media, from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

Cornell Law School Legal Institute: A full service site with links to news, cases, legal topics by category.

Electronic Frontier Foundation:   Based in San Francisco, EFF is a donor-supported membership organization that lobbies for basic rights online and is an advocate for free expression in the digital age. There is always plenty of material here for those interested in Internet law.

EPIC: EPIC stands for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. It is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values. If you're interested in privacy issues on the Internet, this should be your first stop. Think of this as a daily news Web site for practicing lawyers. You can search for topics by legal area and sign up for various e-mail lists.

Lawyer Resource Center: The First Amendment, with a listing of resources categorized by the five freedoms articulated in and by the First Amendment, from a legal resource company called LegalMatch.

Media Law Center: The MLRC – formerly the Libel Defense Resource Center – is a non-profit information clearinghouse originally organized by a number of media organizations to monitor developments and promote First Amendment rights in the libel, privacy and related legal fields. The "Hot Topics" section is especially useful.

Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press: The Committee is a major national -- and international -- resource in free speech issues, disseminating information in a variety of forms, including a quarterly legal review, a bi-weekly newsletter, a 24-hour hotline, and various handbooks on media law issues. Academicians, state and federal agencies, and Congress regularly call on the Committee for advice and expertise, and it has become the leading advocate for reporters' interests in cyberspace.

Tully Center for Free Speech: The Center's mission is to "educate university students and the public about the important value of free speech." At Syracuse University.

University of Iowa Library's Communication & Media Law Resources: It is just what it is called, and the page has an excellent search function by topic at the bottom.


Links to government Web sites that may assist you in your research. 

U.S. Supreme Court: This is a link to the U.S. Supreme Court's official Web site, which contains opinions, links to oral arguments and other information about the court. Be sure to check out the Court's media center, where you'll find podcasts of oral arguments, among other cool artifacts.

Thomas: Thomas is a complete guide to U.S. Congressional activity. Here, you'll find the text of laws, bills and hearings. For a complete list of what Thomas offers, see this section.

The Federal Communications Commission: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency, directly responsible to Congress. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC's jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions. This site offers links to regulations, news, complaint forms, bureaus within the FCC and licensing information.

The Federal Trade Commission: The Federal Trade Commission enforces a variety of federal antitrust and consumer protection laws. This site offers links to regulations, news, actions and opinions, plus much more.

The U.S. Copyright Office: The Copyright Office advises Congress on anticipated changes in U.S. copyright law; analyzes and assists in the drafting of copyright legislation and legislative reports and provides and undertakes studies for Congress; offers advice to Congress on compliance with international agreements and  is also where claims to copyright are registered. This site has links to copyright law, international copyright treaties, general information and copyright studies.

Library of Congress: Here's where you can search the U.S. Library of Congress database on the Web. The Library of Congress Online Catalog contains over 12 million bibliographic records representing books, serials, computer files, manuscripts, cartographic materials, music, sound recordings, and visual materials from the Library's collections.

U.S. Constitution: This is a link to Cornell University page that has posted the U.S. Constitution on the Web.

U.S. Federal Judiciary

Landmark Cases: a library of landmark U.S. Supreme Court case documents, and more


Look Up Cases

FindLaw: This is a complete Web resource for cases, legal news, legal bulletin boards and legal help. Many cases can be found here.

Nexis Uni: This link will let you search for cases on the Lexis Nexis legal database when on campus. If off campus, you will need the library-issued password for access to Berry's subscribed databases.

U.S. Supreme Court: This is a link to the U.S. Supreme Court's official Web site, which contains opinions, links to oral arguments and other information about the court.


Powerpoint supplements

go home
go to the top


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I believe this constitutes a "fair use" of such material under Title 17, U.S.C. § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes that go beyond "fair use," you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.