Q: 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.
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