Thursday, November 10, 2005

To my adoring public

This is scary.  According to this judge, just having your name become a part of general discussions on the internet, i.e. blogs, qualifies you as a public figure, and therefore gives you minimal protection against libel.

      Among other things, Cole said plaintiff Eliza Thomas had become a public figure because there had been "substantial public debate" regarding her and her husband on the internet.

      Thomas claimed First Coast News, a joint operation of two TV stations, defamed her while reporting her efforts to remove the feeding tube from her brain-damaged husband, who is on life support.

      Gabel, who represented the TV stations against Thomas, successfully fought off the defamation suit by, in part, pointing to web coverage of the plaintiff's legal battle over her brain-damaged husband.

      "It's sort of judicial recognition of the importance of internet news," Gabel said. "It shows the power of individuals on the internet."

      Judges often will look at media coverage to see if someone fits the criteria to be a public figure. But in the Thomas case (.pdf), there hadn't been any traditional media coverage; only internet denizens had been involved.

      Bezanson said the judge made a bad decision because Thomas didn't act to inject herself into a public controversy -- one of the criteria for determining a public figure -- but was simply trying to protect her rights.

      "(Someone doesn't) become a public figure just because a newspaper or some part of the media picks (a story) up and makes a big deal of it," Bezanson said.

By that definition, would I be a public figure, just because I operate a blog?

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