Mass Communication Law

The NSU Library is a selective depository library (NSU Government Information Department Web Site).  OSU is the full depository library. Laws are derived from both the court and the legislative systems.  For an overview to Communications Law, try Westlaw under the section on Communications & Media under Legal Guides.

Finding Court Documents

Laws are created through state, federal, and supreme courts.  The state and federal court systems have courts on the trial, intermediate (appellate), and supreme court levels.
Reading a citation for a court case:  
Hutchinson v. Proxmire 443 U.S. 111

  • Hutchinson is the person who initiated the law suit and Proxmire is the other party. 
  • 443 is the volume of the reporter that contains the court case.
  • U.S. stands for United States Reports which is the court reporter which contains the court case. It contains United States Supreme Court cases.  There are other reporters which also contain supreme court cases.
  • 111 is the page number on which the case begins.

The NSU library does not contain all court reporters.  Some of the reporters are no longer up-to-date in print.  Some reporters have first and second series.  Examples of other court reporters that NSU has are as follows:  United States Reports Ref. KF 101.A15 (U.S. Supreme Court), Federal Reporter Ref. KF 110.1.F4 (U.S. Court of Appeals), Federal Supplement Ref. KF 101.F5 (Federal District Courts), Pacific Reporter Ref. KF 135.P2 (regional state court cases, this one includes Oklahoma cases), and Oklahoma Decisions Ref. KFO 1247.O3x.  The Oklahoma Digest Ref. KFO 1247.1.W47 provides indexing to Oklahoma Decisions.

These cases may also be found by using Westlaw.  Each of you will be given your own password. The easiest way to search is to go to the "Find this Document by Citation" box and enter the citation.  For example, to search for Hutchinson verses Proxmire (443 U.S. 111),  enter 443us111 in the "Find this document by citation" box.  To search by title, scroll down to "Finding Tools--Find a Case by Party Name."  Type hutchinson in one box and proxmire in the other box. Select the jurisdiction, if known.  Scroll down to 'go." Try also the Legal Information Institute at Cornell, WashLaw,  and the Oklahoma State Courts Network.

Reading a Court Opinion

When reading an opinion, look for the issues or questions that are raised.  The headnotes, listed under the name of the case, usually provide a good summary of the case. Check for a syllabus of the case, also. Next, look for the resolution or holding of the case.  The point of law should state the meaning of the opinion.  The court case should also list the reasons why the decision was made by listing supporting documents, such as other court cases, statutes, etc. Since five supreme court justices must agree on a case for it to be a legal precedent, there will be majority and minority opinions listed.  Also, look at the level of the court.  Trial courts carry the least weight.  Supreme courts carry the most weight.

Finding Legislative Documents

All states and the federal government are also involved in creating laws.
Public laws (Ref KF 50.A12) list current bills passed by Congress and are arranged by bill number.  United States Statutes at Large (Ref KF 50.U5x) is a chronological listing of bills passed by Congress during each legislative session. An example of a citation would be 48 Stat. 1064.  It can also be listed as a public law (PL). The United States Code (Ref. KF 50.U53x) is a listing of current federal law, so it includes revisions made to laws.  The code is arranged by topic, not chronologically.  The annotated version (Ref. KF 62.A3) includes the history of the law and is updated with pocket parts.  The Congressional Record (Index x1:1/A...) lists committee hearings and debates.  CQ Weekly (Per. JK 1.C15) gives up-to-date information about bills in Congress.  Thomas provides information about Congress including updates on bills.
For Oklahoma legislative information, use the
Oklahoma Session Law Service, Ref. KFO 1231.O474 and Oklahoma Session Laws Ref. KFO 1225.O38 are similar to the federal Statues at LargeOklahoma Statutes, Ref. KFO 1230.2001.A253 lists the current laws.  Oklahoma Statues Annotated, Ref. KFO 1230.A2x provides the history of the law and is updated with pocket parts.  Several Web sites to try include:
Findlaw:  Oklahoma
Current Oklahoma Bills

Other Resources

One of the best known legal encyclopedias is Corpus Juris Secundum (Ref. KF 105.C648).  Black's Law Dictionary (Ref. KF 156.B53) is the standard dictionary in law.

Web Sites

American Civil Liberties Union
First Amendment Center
National Freedom of Information Coalition
Radio-Television News Directors Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of Professional Journalists
Student Press Legal Sites
Sunshine in Government Initiative

Page maintained by: Sophia Threatt
Updates in progress: 2013