Investigative Journalist Claims Her Public Tweets Aren't 'Publishable;' Threatens To Sue Blogger Who Does Exactly That

from the hubristupidity! dept

Update: In case this isn’t enough, there’s a follow up to this story, as Teri Buhl is apparently not a fan of our writeup.

Choose your battles carefully. This warning/advice is more relevant than ever in an era of instant feedback, social media and thousands of pages of “relevant results” microseconds away. Here’s a small story of how not to deal with a problem caused by your own actions.

Mark Bennett, a Houston criminal defense lawyer, was recently pointed in the direction of a rather inexplicable statement attached to a Twitter profile. Teri Buhl, an investigative journalist specializing in Wall Street, has this wording on her profile page:


A friend of Bennett’s (@gideonstrumpet) asked, “What does that mean?” Buhl replied:


Gideon sensibly replied “ok thanks. I don’t know how you prevent that, though. I could write a post quoting you.”

At this point, Buhl went “legal,” responding that she would sue him because she “stated” her tweets are not “on record comments.” And she certainly could, although one wonders who would take her case. Gideon asked for a few second opinions on the legality of Buhl’s claim, and got answers from these two gentlemen whose names are likely familiar to Techdirt regulars, Marc Randazza and Popehat.


So, we have someone thinking their public tweets are private property, and therefore lawsuit-bait if anyone attempts to “quote” them. While Twitter’s TOS assures users that their Tweets are their property, it’s quite another thing to state something publicly and then claim you don’t want it quoted. Would a retweet be a violation of Buhl’s statement? After all, it’s a “direct quote” originating from another account. What about embedding the tweet? Still a problem? Even if Buhl’s claim wasn’t baseless, she’d still have a hell of a time enforcing it. If you don’t want something you said going public, why on earth would you use a very public platform like Twitter to say it?

It gets uglier from there, though. Buhl decided to continue her legal threats via email shortly after Mark Bennett posted screencaps of her tweets.


This prompted Bennett to do a little digging. For someone who’s so concerned with retaining strict control of her information, Buhl certainly doesn’t seem to mind throwing around other people’s information — even the contents of a teenage girl’s personal journal.

A New Canaan woman police say posted personal and sexually explicit information on Facebook about her boyfriend’s 17-year-old daughter was arraigned Tuesday in state Superior Court on charges of second-degree harassment, second-degree breach of peace and interfering with an officer.

Teri Buhl, 38, of 81 Locust Ave., appeared briefly before Judge Maureen D. Dennis with her lawyer, Christopher W. Caldwell of Norwalk…

Buhl surrendered on Oct. 27 at New Canaan police headquarters after learning that a warrant had been obtained for her arrest. She was released after posting a $5,000 bond.

Here’s how Buhl allegedly set about “publishing” someone else’s much more private “statements:”

A look at the documents that led to the warrant and arrest tells a disturbing story of Web-based strong-arming and privacy invasion from a woman who knew her victim and attempted to disguise her own identity.

New Canaan police Youth Bureau Commander Sgt. Carol Ogrinc said in an affidavit that the girl and her father, Paul Brody, came to police June 24 to report that someone using the name ‘Tasha Moore’ had posted personal notes from the girl’s journal on Facebook.

The girl said she kept the journal in her dresser drawer in her bedroom, and that she wrote the notes shown on Facebook last April. The girl said she had replied to the e-mail address provided by Moore on her Facebook page, and had told Moore to stop posting personal information about her or she would contact police.

Moore reportedly answered that she welcomed the legal action and knew the girl’s father was a corporate lawyer. Moore said she didn’t think the girl would contact police because then her father would find out about the embarrassing information from the journal, according to Ogrinc’s statement.

As Bennett points out, it’s apparently OK to publicly post information from a minor’s personal journal, but not OK to post a public Teri Buhl tweet anywhere else on the internet.

Buhl has finally done what she should have done a long time ago and taken her account private. This will likely be the end of this story as Buhl has probably realized she’s on very shaky ground. (This belated tweet captured via her page at Muck Rack seems to confirm this.)


With a trial date set for March 22nd, she may not have time to fight another legal battle. Not only that, but if she’s going to go after “republishers” like Bennett and Gideon, she’s also going to need to free up time to go after less human foes like favstar, Topsy and yfrog.

Here’s a suggestion: don’t antagonize people by attaching implicit legal threats to your public profile. All it does is attract the kind of attention you don’t want — for instance, another public airing of your alleged illegal actions. It doesn’t win you any new friends or followers and it certainly does very little to raise anyone’s estimation of you. Instead, it makes you look like exactly what you are — someone who’s going to slip into “sue” mode at the drop of a tweet.

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Comments on “Investigative Journalist Claims Her Public Tweets Aren't 'Publishable;' Threatens To Sue Blogger Who Does Exactly That”

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112 Comments
John Fenderson (profile) says:

This reminds me

This reminds me of those nonsense disclaimer blurbs some business put at the end of business emails, to the effect of “contains confidential information, if you aren’t the intended recipient, you must destroy this email, blah blah blah”

Complete baloney, but they put it in anyway. And probably think it has some kind of legal weight.

DCX2 says:

Re: This reminds me

Except that email is an ostensibly private communication between the sending and receiving parties.

Sure, you might not be able to force the issue, but if you were to publish the information you gained fraudulently from such an email, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company could take some form of legal action against you.

Remember, the Feds sent proof to al-Haramain’s lawyers that they were being warrantlessly wiretrapped, and the Court did not allow them to use that proof in making their case.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: This reminds me

if you were to publish the information you gained fraudulently from such an email, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company could take some form of legal action against you.

They’d have no legal basis to do so whatsoever unless you received the email due to wrongdoing on your part. If they just accidentally sent it to you, you can legally publish it as far and wide as you wish, regardless of the blurb.

alanbleiweiss (profile) says:

Re: This reminds me

oh that email disclaimer works really well. I routinely unintentionally receive confidential emails, and after reading them (not knowing in advance they weren’t for me,) as soon as I see the disclaimer, I delete the email, and run a special scrubbing program to overwrite the 1s and 0s where the email was on my hard drive.

Then, I run a special electode-connected module program that’s wired to my head, so I can erase the memory of what I read.

It’s really standard procedure.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This reminds me

I had a part-time lawyer send me an email with that disclaimer on accident when he sent out a personal email. Although he did claim he would not sue me, I still could not get an answer how you can type someone’s email into the “To:” line, and somehow not intend to send the email to that person.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 This reminds me

Just as a hypothetical, let’s say the email contains a trade secret.

protection of a trade secret depends on taking reasonable steps to maintain the secrecy. What is “reasonable” is going to depend on lots of different things, but a confidentiality disclaimer and request to destroy the info adds a little bit of weight to the side of the scale showing “reasonableness.”

Also, if the recipient is put on notice that the information was inadvertently provided and confidential, their action in distributing or capitalizing on the information is more likely to be considered “misappropriation.”

That’s one scenario. It’s not too hard to think of others, but making blanket assertions that “you can legally publish it as far and wide as you wish, regardless of the blurb” is not quite right.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 This reminds me

What you say PUBLICALLY has no protection whatsoever. You don’t want it out there, being repeated/used/seen/etc, then DON’T. FUCKING. SAY. IT.

If you send me an email with a trade secret accidentally, then the onus is on YOU to contact me to prevent said secret from getting out. I have no obligation to keep my trap shut, for any reason. YOU SENT IT TO ME. It was UNSOLICITED; and like getting an unsolicited package in the mail containing (say) a widget that’s a trade secret (or even unpaid for), it does NOT mean I HAVE to do jack shit about it, including not reading/deleting/disseminating/paying for it. The law on unsolicited mail is VERY clear: you send it to me without me asking for it, and what happens after I get it is up to ME, and if you don’t like it, tough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 This reminds me

I agree that keeping things confidential is the best policy. But mistakes happen, and the effect of such mistakes might differ depending on various circumstances, including, potentially, email disclaimer language.

Here’s an article on the topic. http://www.rhlaw.com/blog/legal-effect-of-boilerplate-email-disclaimers/

I’m curious what law you are referring to that is “VERY clear” and says what you say it says.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 This reminds me

Also, if the recipient is put on notice that the information was inadvertently provided and confidential, their action in distributing or capitalizing on the information is more likely to be considered “misappropriation.”

Actually, no, it wouldn’t be. If a trade secret is accidentally sent to the wrong person, that wrong person is in no way, shape or form required to keep the secret. Using it wouldn’t be misappropriation.

The only way such an onus would fall on a person is if the obtain access to the trade secret through fraudulent or illegal means (or by agreeing to keep the secret). Receiving a misdirected email is none of those.

It’s not too hard to think of others

Then please do.

making blanket assertions that “you can legally publish it as far and wide as you wish, regardless of the blurb” is not quite right.

I believe it is. I don’t mind if I’m wrong. I often am. I’d love to hear an example of how this is an instance of that.

Jason Bentley (profile) says:

Not unusual

I work in the legal department for a self-publishing website, and this shit is more common than you would think. There’s a subset of people out there that aren’t stupid, but completely deluded by legal pop culture. They are usually “self-educated”. They LOVE dares disguised as disclaimers and proclamations larded with “constitution-y” words like “forthwith” and “hereby.” They constantly threaten legal action, for reasons that morph with every keystroke. Many are revealed to be a defendant other matters, often involving harassment. They will often try to act like their version of a prosecutor on “Law & Order,” and make demands that are actually thinly veiled threats.

It’s a really weird symptom of our time. It’s unquestionably predatory. Thankfully they’re getting easier to spot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sociopathic Behavior

?Grandiose Sense of Self
Feels entitled to certain things as “their right.”

?Manipulative and Conning
They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.

?Pathological Lying
Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.

?Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

?Irresponsibility/Unreliability
Not concerned about wrecking others’ lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.

?Glibness and Superficial Charm

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Her first and last name sound so much like “terrible” that at first I assumed she was randomly trolling people.”

Me too, but she’s not even the only person with that name on LinkedIn by the look of things.

“trained”

Maybe that’s the problem. She’s been told how to work in an industry and hasn’t got the intelligence to work out that many of the rules have changed. A lot of journalists simply don’t like the way the fundamentals of their industry have changed, and don’t really understand how to use the internet. Especially in the era of social media where some people don’t quite grasp that what they’re saying is by definition public (and on Twitter especially, where you don’t get the granular privacy control you get with Facebook, etc. – but then keeping things private is completely against the point of the service). None of that was covered in their journalism classes, so they prefer to ingnore the differences.

She, of course, has the option to merely not use Twitter if she doesn’t like the way her tweets are interpreted and used, but her reaction does sound like someone spoiling for a fight rather than someone genuinely offended.

alanbleiweiss (profile) says:

Re: Re:

OMG you are such a hacker! How dare you breach her privacy and discover her whois information! Don’t you know that whois information is not for general public view, and that searching such information is hacking? And as Carmen Ortiz has confirmed, a crime is a crime! And all you hackers should spend 50 years in jail for such terrorist acts!

G Thompson (profile) says:

I read the heading, immediately thought “Oh crap more Crystal Cox bullshit.. what now?” and then was mildly surprised to see that other ‘Investigative reporters’ (and I use that term very loosely) are taking up the batshit craziness too!

And then read that Bennett, Randazza, and Popehat (Ken) are all mentioned too… shades of deja vu – Muwahahahahaha [this is an in joke for those not laughing]

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

LOL..

I went there, read a bit.. started to fall asleep.. then thought “What the hey..” so I turned off Javascript (Yes minions! Bow down to my hacking prowess rolls eyes), copied the whole page via mouse select then pasted it into a text document.

Then deleted the document because that’s all that post deserved.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I just can’t believe that in 2013 people still try to block copy and paste on the client side using Javascript, is the apice of stupidity, the reason is simple he probably paid someone to do it, the guy most likely told him it was a waste of time or if he was dishonest kept quite, basically giving money for free to the web-designer.

How stupid one has to be to waste money on something that everyone knows how to circumvent?

Here are other ways:

– Code:

javascript:void(document.oncontextmenu=null)

– SHIFT+F10 (opens the context menu)
– CTRL+U(opens the source view)

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

How dare you give away my secrets of Hacking!!!! the horror of the unwashed …ok.. ok.. the washed, knowing my secrets of coding awesomeness is wrong and might eventuate in knowledge being learnt!!! Think of the children!!!

also I cheated and used a Firefox extension called QuickJava with nice icons that turns off/on JavaScript, Java, Silverlight, CSS, Flash, Cookies, Proxies etc when you click them πŸ˜‰

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This whole article and opinion piece was instead about what was publicly available information talking about world viewable twitter comments and specific blog posts by others about yourself.

Though it might be sometimes advisable to include a “jurno [sic] step” of contacting one of the individuals that third parties talked about it is not a requirement legally nor sometimes ethically if instead you are only talking about other news sources

TD is not a journalistic endeavour in the normal investigative sense instead it is a site designed to “analyze and offer insight into news stories” [From the about page].

I’m sure Tim would love to hear your side of any of this though maybe what you could also do is write your own response on your blog to Mr Bennett and let Tim analyse and offer insight on that instead. Or place a comment here as well stating your views.

Though even commenting on a story that is not painting you in a good light is a very positive, mature, and welcome first step.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Though even commenting on a story that is not painting you in a good light is a very positive, mature, and welcome first step.”

A first step? Perhaps. It’s 50/50 whether it’s a first step towards giving her side of the story, or a first step towards asking how much libel insurance he carries. Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

…and by reading said comment brings you under the full weight of the hammer of the law, including copyright, DRM, libel, slander, public intoxication, speeding, double-parking, shoplifting, and jaywalking.

Please await my E̶x̶t̶o̶r̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ legal teams’ contact, at which time we will determine how much much to rip out of your butt. We promise to leave absolutely nothing.

Thank you for your cooperation.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“jurno”? Surely you don’t mean the abbreviation for journalist commonly spelled “journo”?

By the way, this is an opinion blog, so there’s neither “journos” nor indeed “print” here. It’s also a very popular one, so it’s probably not a good idea to put your email address in the body of your own comment since this will not only get picked up by spammers who mine sites like this for such addresses, but you’re also inviting potentially more derogatory comments from people reading. People who will not have any connection to this site, but you’ve definitely invited them to email you.

In future, it might be better if you made comments without giving personal details, and also learn the nature of a site before you start using it. You can contact the site privately through the links at the bottom of the page as well.

Oh, and did you know your site’s down right now?

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

just one minor point:
i put my ‘anonymous’ email eddress up here (and scattered all over the inertnet tubes), and get very little spam/etc…

not sure if it is because my ISP’s spam blocker is good, or what… but the ‘risk’ of putting up your email eddress is overblown… i mean, to a large extent, it is out there already, putting it up another time or two on the web doesn’t make you suddenly more vulnerable…

just sayin’…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy
eof

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually, on the evidence presented to me, you don’t. Perhaps you enter your email in the relevant box when you comment, but that’s private and used for administration on the site for login, and for the site to know if you want to be emailed when a thread you’re interested in is commented on. It doesn’t appear on your profile page.

In other words, your email entry on this site is visible only to Techdirt. I can’t see it. She pasted her email into the body of the comment itself, making it public to everybody reading the thread. I can speak from experience that making your email address public can be a risk, but I was also considering personal attacks from people reading this article as well – attacks she would no doubt blame on Techdirt although neither Mike nor the regulars her would be at fault.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Hi! I’m Teri Buhl; and I’m a copyright troll, IP extortionist, and an alleged journalist. I have also expanded out to include pedo-stalker, trust-wrecker, life-destroyer, and journal theif.

“I am a psychosociopath who will stop at nothing to get what I want. If I’m being nice to you, you should watch your ass, because I’m about to rip something out of it that you might not want exposed.

“Please forward all correspondence to my associopath lawyers, who will just sue you for everything, and make us rich. And don’t ask for mercy or understanding: I don’t care, I’d just as soon eviscerate you as look at you. I only want your money.

“Thank you for your co?peration!!

“Sincerely,

“Teri the Teribuhl”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: All Tweets are Public Domain

Although the copyright office makes the broad general statement that copyright does not extend to short phrases, that is not actually a correct statement of the law.

Courts have, in fact, given copyright protection to short phrases. That doesn’t mean Ms. Buhl’s tweets necessarily will receive copyright protection, or that a quote would constitute infringement.

Here is a good article on the topic: http://fairuse.stanford.edu/commentary_and_analysis/2003_09_stim.html

JustMe (profile) says:

Did Teri Buhl break the law?

I don’t know if Teri Buhl broke the law or not when she published the contents of an underage girl’s private journal, but it sure sounds like Teri Buhl broke the law because publishing the contents of an underage girl’s private journal might be illegal somewhere. Of course, only a court can determine if Teri Buhl broke the law, and far be it from me to even speculate that Teri Buhl broke the law. I probably would not want to be Teri Buhl if a court finds that Teri Buhl broke the law, because then it would be a fact that Teri Buhl broke the law. Also, she doesn’t seem to understand The Streisand Effect.

Loki says:

It doesn’t win you any new friends or followers and it certainly does very little to raise anyone’s estimation of you.

I don’t know about that. With a mentality like that, if she gets her name out there she might have a very promising future with the RIAA, MPAA, US Chamber of Commerce, or any of the other “copyright” organizations that live in their own little personal universes.

Steve (profile) says:

More fodder

Here are a couple links to where Teri Bulh is commenting/providing more info…

http://jimromenesko.com/2013/02/05/teri-buhl-responds-to-techdirts-post/

http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/203037/can-a-twitter-user-really-prohibit-you-from-republishing-tweets/
(she has been positing in the in the comments section to this article)

Curiously, no public comment on her actual blog.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:

Hmmm… A quick scan of the first couple of articles, shows her journalistic bent is toward bringing to light financial institution malfeasance.

It’s too bad that she can’t write too well, her spelling is atrocious, and her grammar leaves something to be desired. Oh, and her tendency to throw everyone under the bus, including those that are on her side.

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