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Court Finds That Bloggers are not Protected by Journalistic Legal Shields

Bloggers may be in trouble. Law.com is reporting that the New Jersey case of Too Much Media v. Hale have found against the blogger, and find that bloggers are not protected as journalists. It is only the second appellate ruling in any state to address the legal status of bloggers.

“Simply put, new media should not be confused with news media,” the court ruling stated. It went on to say that the blogger in question, “exhibited none of the recognized qualities or characteristics traditionally associated with the news process, nor has she demonstrated an established connection or affiliation with any news entity.”

The news is troubling for inhabitants of the blogosphere who have long  blended the art of writing actual news with the ability to freely say anything they like with almost no oversight or legal responsibility. It has been a mixed blessing that allowed opinions to be freely discussed, but the inevitable downside has always been the potential abuses it can cause.

The lawsuit stems from a case where blogger Shelle Hale was sued for defamation over statements she made on the website Oprano.com, a page known primarily in the adult entertainment circles. Hale accused Too Much Media, a software provider that primarily works with Internet porn providers, of engaging in fraud and “illegal and unethical use of technology.” Halle claims that the company profited from the theft of email addresses stolen by hackers in 2007.

Hale went on to set up the website Pornafia.com. She then informed the Attorney General of Washington, her home state, of her intentions to further investigate the potential criminal activities in the porn world and then inform the public.

Too Much Media sued Hale for defamation and demanded to know her sources. Hale moved for a protective order under the journalistic shield that allows reporters the protection of not releasing their sources. The claim was denied in June of 2009, and Hale appealed. A further appeal was recently dismissed by the New Jersey court of appeals.

Appellate Division Judge Anthony Parrillo stated in the decision that Hale “took no notes of conversations, meetings or interviews with contacts or sources, never asked the company principals for their version of the security breach incident and did not provide details about any fact-checking on information she collected.”

The ruling also states that the website she posted to, Oprano.com, is essentially a message board that anyone can post to, and so if the website were a newspaper, Halle’s posts would be the equivalent of an opinion based letter to the editor.

The ruling clears the way for Too Much Media to press on with its lawsuit and to depose Hale on her sources. Halle’s lawyers are considering the ruling, and may try a further appeal.

A California appellate court also ruled on an Internet blogger that requested to be protected as a journalist. Its rulings contradict the New Jersey courts, as the Californian judges upheld the legal rights of the blogger to refuse a subpoena to name the sources of an Apple-Insider-based news leak.