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Communication Law and Policy: Leon Lazaroff


Course Overview

Course Description

U.S. media law. First amendment. Intellectual property. U.S. media policy history. Digital and satellite challenges for policy and law. Theories of public interest and deregulation. Cultural and political implications of law and policy.

Prerequisite: Television and Radio 1165 or permission of the instructor

About Communication Law and Policy

COMM 3300/CASD 3235/TVRA 3535 is an introductory course in United States communication law that examines the legal limitations on communication as well as the rights and responsibilities of professional communicators. 

This is a descriptive course, not a “how-to” course. This course will not qualify you to provide legal advice. It will, however, provide you with a basic understanding of the law and in some cases may provide you with enough information to know when you might need to contact an attorney for legal assistance.

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn the basic principles of communication law in areas such as freedom of expression, journalism, broadcasting, and business communication;
  • Understand the historical, legal, and cultural contexts out of which the principles of freedom of expression arise;
  • Recognize differences in philosophies and approaches to communication law in other countries compared to the US; and
  • Develop, articulate, and defend opinions on controversial issues in communication law.

In other words:

This class introduces the evolution and dynamics of communication law: How U.S. society, reflected in court decisions, has come to treat the rights of speech (which includes publishing, art, privacy, and the right not to speak.) We’ll spend a lot of time on the First Amendment, how it relates to political speech, commercial speech, hate speech, news gathering, libel and privacy, and the rights of individuals and corporations to affect the political process. 

We’ll also look at media policy as it relates to television, cable-TV, the Internet, music and more broadly, intellectual property laws. We’ll study the role of governmental agencies, principally the Federal Communications Commission, to set policies about media ownership, news reporting, and advertising. We’ll also explore the cultural and political implications of communications law and policy. 



Two Books:

  1. “Exploring Communication Law” by Randy Bobbitt, Routledge (Second Edition), 2017
  2. “Freedom for the Thought That We Hate” by Anthony Lewis, Basic Books, 2010

Additional required readings -- articles from magazines, websites, etc -- will be assigned during the semester. They will be posted on Blackboard.

Final Grade Calculation

Attendance and Participation: 30%

4 Pass/Fail Writings (5% each): 20%

Two In-Class Tests: (10% each): 20%

Final Exam: 30%

Session Schedules Assignments and Deadlines

Students are responsible to observe assignment deadlines and policies in this syllabus.

Assignments must be turned in via Blackboard by 12pm on the Wednesday before they’re due. Late work will be subject to a grade reduction. No work will be accepted beyond one week after the due date unless there are extraordinary circumstances and pre-approval. Please manage your time and be proactive. Also, spelling and grammar count. Please check.

Class Writings: Pass/Fail

For some classes, you will be expected to submit a three-paragraph description/comment on the week’s reading. 

Exam questions will come from lecture material, assigned readings and from additional readings or materials provided by the instructor. You will be responsible for all assigned readings and materials.


Responsibility and Accountability


The degree to which students benefit from targeted learning outcomes depend upon the commitment and effort they make to the course. It is expected that students exhibit a level of overall maturity and reliability.


Students are responsible for all assignments, even if they are absent. Late papers, failures to complete reading assignments for class discussions and lack of preparedness for in-class discussions, group projects and presentations will jeopardize your successful completion of this course.


Students are responsible for keeping track of assignments and associated due dates (noted in the syllabus and/or on Blackboard) to assure the on-time submission of work.



We will be dealing with some controversial material that may be a little upsetting to some people some of the time.  College students should expect to be challenged, of course; but no one should feel uncomfortable. Also, you are encouraged to speak up in class to share your perspective, your point of view. No view is right or wrong. I want everyone, no matter their point of view, to feel comfortable expressing their view, and doing it in such a way that is respectful of others. Please advise the instructor in private about any personal issues you may be having with course materials.  


Electronic Devices


The use of electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops, cameras etc.) is not permitted in class. On some occasions, the instructor will permit the use of a device if it is essential to in-class course work. All other uses are prohibited in the classroom and devices should be turned off before class starts. You’ll have time to check e-mail, etc. during the break midway through the class.


Academic Honesty and Integrity

Plagiarism and cheating are unacceptable and will result, at a minimum, in a grade of F or a 0 for that assignment, quiz or test and, more severely, a grade of F for the course. 


“The faculty and administration of Brooklyn College support an environment free from cheating and plagiarism. Each student is responsible for being aware of what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and for avoiding both. If a faculty member suspects a violation of academic integrity and, upon investigation, confirms that violation, or if the student admits the violation, the faculty member MUST report the violation.” 

For the complete text of the CUNY Academic Integrity Policy and the Brooklyn College procedure for policy implementation go




Preferred Name & Gender Pronouns

All people have the right to be addressed in accordance with their personal identity. In this class, you can indicate the name that you prefer to be called by and, if you choose, the pronouns by which you would like to be addressed. I will do my best to refer to all students accordingly and support classmates in doing so as well.


Student Accommodations

To receive disability-related academic accommodations, students must first be registered with the Center for Student Disability Services (CSDS) in 138 Roosevelt Hall. Students who have a documented disability or suspect they may have one are invited to set up an appointment with the Director of CSDS, Ms. Valerie Stewart-Lovell, at 718-951-5538. If you have already registered with CSDS, please provide me with the course accommodation form and discuss your specific accommodation with me as soon as possible and at an appropriate time.

Policies, Resources & Advice

  1. If you have any questions, technical difficulties, or problems with the course or material, please reach out to me by email, phone, Blackboard, or in person. Team and classwork are essential to success in this class. Attendance and lateness will be recorded.

  2. Students who are unable, because of religious beliefs, to attend class or participate in any examination, study, or class-related activity on a particular day should contact their instructor ahead of time to facilitate their absence without prejudice or penalty; for further information on the New York State law regarding nonattendance because of religious beliefs, see p. 65 in the Brooklyn College Undergraduate Bulletin.

  3. You should always come to class with paper and pens. Unless otherwise specified, you should bring the assigned book, reading or text to class.

  4. Generally, you will not be given the opportunity to revise and resubmit assignments that are at a satisfactory level (C or better).

  5. You are responsible for completing reading and other homework assignments before class. Absence is not an excuse for not completing assignments: you can check our Blackboard site for the class assignment. Late assignments may be penalized.

  6. Tests must be taken at their assigned times. Make-ups are NOT given.

  7. Homework assignments are to be typed unless otherwise stated. Name, date and class should be at the top of the first page and your name at the top of subsequent pages. The text should be double spaced with one-inch margins on all sides. Emails must have your full name and the class in the subject heading and in the body of the email.

  8. You are expected to interact collaboratively and respectfully with your peers. Teamwork is an integral part of the class.

  9. Read carefully the section entitled “Academic Regulations and Procedures” in the Brooklyn College Undergraduate Bulletin for a complete listing of academic regulations in the College.

Course Information

Brooklyn College

Department of Communication Arts, Sciences and Disorders

Communication Law and Policy

COMM3300/CASD3235/TVRA3535 R3

3 hours, 3 credits

Fall 2020

Wednesday, 6:30pm-9:15pm: Attendance Not Required. Lecture Will Be Posted.

Room: Not Yet Decided

Leon Lazaroff

3439 Boylan



Major First Amendment Cases in U.S. History:

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

First Amendment Overview:

Video: Justice Elena Kagan discusses the First Amendment:

Podcast: The American Tradition of Dissent:

First Amendment Summary (Geoffry Stone and Eugene Volokh):

Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University:

Supreme Court Free Speech cases and Controversies




Hate Speech

1. Hate Speech is Protected Speech by Ken White

2. Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969):

3. The Harm in Hate Speech - video:

Journalists Jailed for Refusing to Identify Sources

Campus speech

1. "American Students Have Simple Demands"




Class Assignments:


Week #1: Introduction: Wednesday, Feb. 3


Introduction: Overview of First Amendment; its importance to American democracy; the basic structure of the U.S. legal system; the evolution of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment. We’ll watch a handful of videos and talk about what we want to get out of this class during this third semester of the Covid pandemic.


We’ll also talk about “hate speech,” the Capitol Riot and Social Media Publishers, core topics which we’ll return to repeatedly during this course.


Week #2: Wednesday, Feb. 10

The First Amendment: Heart and Soul  of U.S. Communication Law & Policy


Key Cases:

Schenck v. United States (1919)

Debs v. United States (1919)

Abrams v. United States (1919)

Gitlow v. New York (1925)

Whitney v. California (1927)

United States v. Schwimmer (1927)

Stromberg v. California (1931)

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1939)

Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire (1942)


Reading/Listening Assignments:


  • Anthony Lewis: Chapters 1 and 3 

  • “First Things First”: Chapters 2 and 3


  • Make No Law Podcast: “Fire in a Crowded Theater”


Week #3: Wednesday, Feb. 17

Is Hate Speech Free Speech? What are the limits?


Key Cases:

Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)

Hess v. Indiana (1973)

Collin v. Smith a/k/a “Skokie” (1978)

NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982)

R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992)

Virginia v. Black (2003)



Readings/Listening Assignments:


  • Anthony Lewis: Chapter 10

  • Make No Law Podcast: “Make No Law: Imminent Lawless Action”


  • “First Things First”: Brandenburg: Chapter 7 p. 104-111 (Hess v. Indiana on p. 111); Collin v. Smith: Chapter 5: p. 48-59; Chapter 4: NAACP v. Claiborne p. 34-43; 

R.A.V. v. St. Paul:, pp. 59-60. Virginia v. Black: p. 123-134


Helpful Overview:

  • What Words Make Up a True Threat? Well, That Depends


Week #4: Wednesday, Feb. 24
Internet and Social Media: Free Speech in the Age of Facebook and Twitter


Reading/Listening Assignments:

  • Make No Law Podcast: “Deplatformed: Social Media Censorship and the First Amendment”


  • Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act Explained:


Parler CEO is fired:



Week #5: Wednesday, March 3

Political Speech: Free Speech in Times of War and Panic 


Key Cases:

Schenck v. United States (1919)

Debs v. United States (1919)

Abrams v. United States (1919)

Whitney v. California (1927)

Schwimmer v. United States (1929)

Dennis v. United States (1951)


Reading/Listening Assignments:


  • Make No Law Podcast: “Fighting Faiths”

  • Make No Law Podcast: “Street”


  • FTF: Chapter 7: pages 87-104 [Discussion of Abrams and Dennis.]

  • Lewis: [Schenck, Debs, Abrams, Whitney and Schwimmer were discussed in Chapter 3.]

Chapter 7 [Dennis is discussed here along with the larger issue
of political speech.]




Week #6: Wednesday, March 10

Free Speech in Symbols, Icons and Art


Key Cases:

Stromberg v. California (1931)

Gobitis v. Minersville School District (1940)

Barnette v. West Virginia State Board of Education (1943)

Cohen v. California (1971)

Texas v. Johnson (1989)


Reading/Listening Assignments:


  • Lewis: [Gobitis and Barnette were discussed in Chapter 7]


  • First Things First: p. 196-197 (Gobitis and Barnette); Chapter 10: p. 169-174 (Stromberg); Chapter 8: p. 118-123 (Cohen v. California ); p. 182-194 (Texas v. Johnson)


  • Podcast: “Make No Law: Fighting Words” [Discussion of Gobitis and Barnette]


  • Podcast: “Make No Law: The F-Bomb” [Discussion of Cohen v. California]


Week #7: Wednesday, March 17

First In-Class Test


Week #8: Wednesday, March 24

Freedom of the Press and Speech: Libel 


Key Cases: 

Near v. Minnesota (1931), 

New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)

Gertz v. Robert Welch (1974)

Falwell v. Hustler Magazine (1988)

Eramo v. Rolling Stone (2015)


Reading Assignments:


  • Anthony Lewis: Ch. 4 [Discussion of Near and NYTimes v. Sullivan.]

  • First Things First: p. 275 [Near]; Chapter 9: p.135-145 [NYTimes v. Sullivan]; p145-152 [Gertz]; p. 152-160 [Falwell].




Week #9: Wednesday, April 7

Newsgathering: A Journalist’s Rights and Limitations


Key Cases: 

Judy Garland v. Marie Torre (1958) - U.S. Appeals Court

Branzburg v. Hayes (1972)

New York Times v. United States (1971) a/k/a The Pentagon Papers case


Reading Assignments:


  • Anthony Lewis: Chapter 6 (Discussion of Branzburg); [New York Times v. U.S. was discussed in Chapter 4]


Week #10: Wednesday, April 14

Public Employees and Free Speech


Reading Assignments:



  • Also Read: Lawsuit by Teacher Allegedly Fired Over Central Park Five Lesson Dismissed


Week #11: Wednesday, April 21

School and Campus Speech: Protest and “Safe Zones” 


Key Cases:

Tinker v. Des Moines Board of Education (1969)

Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri (1973)


Be mindful of these three cases, which I will reference:


Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986)

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988)

Morse v. Frederick (2007)



Reading/Listening Assignments: 


  • Podcast: “Make No Law: The Schoolhouse Gates”



Week #12: Wednesday, April 28 

Social Media Platforms, Hate Speech, Disinformation and Privacy

Reading Assignments: 


Week #13: Wednesday, May 5

Money as Speech


Key Case:

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) 


Reading Assignments:


  • First Things First: Chapter 13: p. 232-247


  • Citizens United Explained:


  • The Citizens United Disaster That Wasn’t


  • Money Is Speech: Why the Citizens United v. FEC Ruling Is Bad for Politics and the Market


Week #14: Wednesday,  May 12

Last Class: Semester Review


Week #15: Wednesday, May 19