Thursday, April 28, 2005

Bloggers deserve same rights as journos

Vanessa Leggett: Houston writer jailed 5 months by feds who insisted she wasn't a journalist
Bloggers share the same legal risks as journalists and thus deserve the same legal rights, writes attorney Julie Hilden.

Hilden brings up the case of Vanessa Leggett, the freelance writer in Houston who was jailed for 5 months for refusing to comply with the federal government's demands that she turn over material she gathered in the murder case against River Oaks bookie James Angleton.

The reason: She was called a "virtually unpublished freelance writer."

It was uncontroverted that Leggett, an English professor, was taking notes for a nonfiction book; one that was intended to be a work of journalism. But it would have been her first book of any kind. For this reason, the court refused to deem Leggett a journalist, even though no one disputed she was researching a journalistic work.

That was a mistake. The prosecutors who went after Leggett would never argue that a prosecutor on his or her first day in the office is not really a prosecutor. For every profession, there must be a first time practicing it.

Requiring experience, then, is a mistake when one tries to determine if a particular person is a journalist. So is requiring elite credentials from traditional media organizations.

Although many bloggers may not be aware of this, the law considers them as much a publisher as the New York Times Corp., to the extent that they are posting their own words. That means that bloggers can be liable for defamation, and for dissemination of trade secrets, among other torts and wrongs, just as journalists can.

It should be noted that Hilden's piece turns on a trade secret case in California, where laws relating to journalists' privilege are markedly different than the law in Texas, which extends no privileges to journalists (or bloggers).

No comments: