Court Declares That, Yes, Bloggers Are Media

from the and-the-moral-of-the-story-is-don't-shoot-dogs dept

A few years ago, we wrote about the bizarre and quixotic effort by Florida businessman Christopher Comins to find any possible way to sue University of Florida student and blogger Matthew Frederick VanVoorhis for his blog post concerning a widely publicized event in which Comins shot two dogs in a field (video link). The story made lots of news at the time, but Comins didn't go after any of the major media -- instead targeting VanVoorhis for a defamation suit. The original blog post is "novelistic" but it's difficult to see how it's defamatory. Either way, Comins' case was shot down on fairly specific procedural grounds: namely that Florida defamation law requires specific notice be given to media properties at least 5 days before a lawsuit is launched. Specifically, the law says:
Before any civil action is brought for publication or broadcast, in a newspaper, periodical, or other medium, of a libel or slander, the plaintiff shall, at least 5 days before instituting such action, serve notice in writing on the defendant, specifying the article or broadcast and the statements therein which he or she alleges to be false and defamatory.
Comins' lawsuit was dumped because he failed to give such notice. Comins argues that he did give such a notice (though the letter he sent did not meet the requirements of such notice under the law) and (more importantly for this discussion) that VanVoorhis' blog did not count as a media publication, and thus the law did not apply. The original court ruling rejected that pretty quickly, and now on appeal, a state appeals court has not just rejected Comins' anti-blog claim more thoroughly, but also highlighted the importance of blogs to our media landscape.

The full ruling does a nice job giving the history and purpose of the law above, as well as the importance of encouraging the media to report on difficult stories. And from there, it explains why VanVoorhis' blog is clearly a part of the media and why blogs in general are so important: is hard to dispute that the advent of the internet as a medium and the emergence of the blog as a means of free dissemination of news and public comment have been transformative. By some accounts, there are in the range of 300 million blogs worldwide. The variety and quality of these are such that the word “blog” itself is an evolving term and concept. The impact of blogs has been so great that even terms traditionally well defined and understood in journalism are changing as journalists increasingly employ the tools and techniques of bloggers – and vice versa. In employing the word “blog,” we consider a site operated by a single individual or a small group that has primarily an informational purpose, most commonly in an area of special interest, knowledge or expertise of the blogger, and which usually provides for public impact or feedback. In that sense, it appears clear that many blogs and bloggers will fall within the broad reach of “media,” and, if accused of defamatory statements, will qualify as a “media defendant” for purposes of Florida’s defamation law as discussed above.

There are many outstanding blogs on particular topics, managed by persons of exceptional expertise, to whom we look for the most immediate information on recent developments and on whom we rely for informed explanations of the meaning of these developments. Other blogs run the gamut of quality of expertise, explanation and even- handed treatment of their subjects. We are not prepared to say that all blogs and all bloggers would qualify for the protection of section 770.01, Florida Statutes, but we conclude that VanVoorhis’s blog, at issue here, is within the ambit of the statute’s protection as an alternative medium of news and public comment.
While it seems crazy that this kind of issue is still being debated in 2014, it's good to see a court make such a clear statement on the fact that blogs will often qualify as media properties.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  • identicon
    Christenson, 16 Apr 2014 @ 12:51pm

    Whatever happened to "Malice Aforethought"????

    That is, it's not hard to prove malicious intent or attempted extortion on a "revenge porn" site.

    You know, money needs to change hands to take the picture down and all.....nice reputation you got there, m' a shame if people saw you all nekkid or something!

    That is the crux of showing it's "revenge"...

    And, as for taking it down, a particularized letter ought to be sufficient....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jay (profile), 16 Apr 2014 @ 1:25pm

    One branch down...

    Now that we have one branch recognizing the 1st Amendment for bloggers, how about someone remind Dianne Feinstein about bloggers getting shielded through the First Amendment as well?

    Oh, and the President needs a constant reminder about bloggers and whistleblowers needing to have similar "SHIELDs" in place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John P. Squibob, 17 Apr 2014 @ 2:51pm

    Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)...

    ...hardest hit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    madasahatter (profile), 17 Apr 2014 @ 3:24pm

    Very Important

    The Florida court seems to say one should presume a blog qualifies as a media outlet unless proven otherwise. This puts the onus of disproving a blog is not a media outlet on the plaintiff not on the defendant blogger.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dyspeptic Curmudgeon, 17 Apr 2014 @ 4:41pm


    Meanwhile, the Senate Press Gallery has decided NOT to renew the Press Pass of ScotusBlog. And the Supreme Court itself will not grant Press Pass access accreditation to Scotusblog either. Not 'Press'???

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Born Free, 18 Apr 2014 @ 10:29am

    Comins Can't Write Either

    The hillbilly's prose is as big a bloody mess as his ethics.

    "It is my personal mission to position Custom Fab as the leading fabricator of fabricated products designed primarily for servicing the waterworks industry by assuring our clients the highest quality fabricated products available,on time deliveries and customer service “second to none”."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer
Anonymous number for texting and calling from Hushed. $25 lifetime membership, use code TECHDIRT25
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.