Victoria "Tori" Smith Ekstrand has been a media law and free expression scholar for more than two decades. Before that, she worked as a senior executive for The Associated Press at its headquarters in New York City. She is currently serving a three-year term at the UNC Graduate School as the Royster Distinguished Professor for Graduate Education, where she leads UNC’s premier doctoral fellows program and its annual Royster Global conference with UNC’s strategic global partners.

Ekstrand began her research career exploring conflicts between copyright law and the First Amendment. Her interest in that subject was spurred by the copyright wars of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and in her role as director of corporate communications for The Associated Press at a time when news organizations were grappling with the emerging online infringement and misappropriation of their intellectual property. She is an expert on the hot news doctrine, a part of unfair competition law that protects the facts of news for a short period. Her revised book on the subject, “Hot News in the Age of Big Data: A Legal History of the Hot News Doctrine and Implications for the Digital Age” (2016), looks at the history of the doctrine and its impact on protections for discrete bits of information in the age of Big Data and the European Union’s move to protect data privacy.

More recently, her research has focused on critical and interdisciplinary perspectives in media law and free expression, with research on anonymous speech, campus free expression debates, the trademarking of social movement hashtags, online accessibility issues for people with disabilities, and problems with regulating online political advertising. At the heart of these inquiries is her interest in who has – and who doesn’t have — access to the First Amendment’s marketplace of ideas, a central tenet of all U.S. free expression case law.

She has published articles in top communications journals and law reviews, including Journalism and Mass Communications Quarterly, Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal and Communication Law & Policy. Along with Caitlin Carlson and Erin Coyle, she is the new lead editor for The Law of Journalism and Mass Communication, one of top media law texts for schools of media and journalism in the U.S., and the first media law textbook with all female scholars. The eighth edition will be published in 2023.


  • Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • M.A., New York University
  • B.A., Syracuse University