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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Portland Mercury: We'll Go to Court for You*

Posted by Amy J. Ruiz on Wed, Oct 1, 2008 at 2:38 PM

Check this out: Attorneys for the Portland Mercury and Willamette Week crammed into a courtroom on Monday morning. Instead of arguing in front of Judge James E. Redman about which paper is clearly superior (ahem), the attorneys teamed up--against a lawyer representing a guy who really, really wants both papers to divulge the IP address of an anonymous blog commenter.

Long story short: We won. And therefore, so did you, dear anonymous Blogtown commenters.

Long story long: In January, I blogged about Sho Dozono's bid for public financing.

An anonymous and verbose commenter called "Ronald" took the blog post as an opportunity to chime in with some not very nice things he had to say about a guy named Terry Beard, who "Ronald" alleged had formerly done business with Dozono.

The stuff "Ronald" wrote was Greek to me, but Terry Beard sure didn't appreciate it. Beard's beef, however, is not with us (or WW, where something similar was posted), as we're not responsible for the content of commenters' comments. His beef is with "Ronald." And Beard went to court to try and force both papers to hand over Roland's IP address.

Our attorneys fought the motion, arguing that Oregon's Media Shield Law protects that sort of information. The plaintiff's attorney argued that the shield law--which protects "The source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving, or processing information for any medium of communication to the public"--only applies to news gathering (for example, if I had called up "Ronald," and there was information about him in notes for a story).

Judge Redman, however, agreed with both papers, and ruled that the law protects this kind of info, too, in a decision dated September 30. (More legal wonkery after the cut, if you're into that sort of thing.)

Redman did note, however, that "if the comment had been totally unrelated to the blog post, then the argument could be made that the Portland Mercury did not receive it in the 'course of gathering, receiving, or processing information for any medium of communication to the public.'" So keep those comments on topic, people! We're all for going to court to protect anonymous free speech, but keep our comments policy in mind.

(Confidential to the guy who wants this commenter's info: I'm sure reposting this will drive you up the wall. Don't let it, please. Confidential to "Ronald": This post (and court decision) might drive that guy so up the wall, he'll keep trying to track you down. I hear Mexico is lovely this time of year. Kidding.)

*many exceptions may apply

Here's what Judge Redman said, for you media law geeks:

Plaintiff's Motion to Compel seeks unpublished information that was obtained for a medium of communication to the public. While plaintiff does not tie his argument to this particular statutory language, it would appear that plaintiff's position is that the language "in the course of gathering, receiving, or processing information for a medium of communication to the public" is synonymous with 'in the course of gathering news'.

The statutory language, however, deliberately protects not only news but also "data" and what is commonly understood as information. It would seem clear that Oregon's Media Shield Law is intended to have a wider scope than "news gathering". The posting on the Portland Mercury Website titled "Busy Day at City Hall, Part 2" discussed actions taken by Sho Dozono to qualify for public financing in his run for mayor of the City of Portland. The Portland Mercury invited readers to comment on the blog post. An anonymous reader calling himself "Ronald" responded with a comment related to Mr. Dozono's candidacy which was allegedly defamatory of plaintiff. If the comment had been totally unrelated to the blog post, then the argument could be made that the Portland Mercury did not receive it in the "course of gathering, receiving, or processing information for any medium of communication to the public".

The Oregon Media Shield Law is broadly written and it is intended to protect a broad range of media activity, not simply news gathering. This court feels compelled to follow the broad statutory language in regard to plaintiff's motion to compel and therefore denies plaintiff's motion to compel.

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