A&A: Can newspaper publish captured police-scanner audio of gunfight?

Press RightsQ: We have a recording of police scanner traffic detailing the response to the gunfight between Sheriff’s deputies and Chris Dorner–the ex-LAPD police officer and former United States Navy reservist who was charged in connection with a series of shooting attacks on police officers. We recalled a challenge to being able to post such information in the past. Is it legal/defensible for a newspaper to publish this information?

A: As a general matter, you will have a right to publish all lawfully-obtained, newsworthy material. Bartnicki v. Vopper. I am not aware of any restriction on the use of audio that was legally recorded from a police scanner feed. Legal issues have arisen by the use of conversations, such as cell phone calls, recorded accidentally while the listener was attempting to record a police scanner. But that recording — of a conversation intended to be entirely private — was deemed to be an illegal wiretap. McDermott v. Boehner.

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to First Amendment Coalition hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.