Monday, January 23, 2012

Illinois Judge Rules Tech Blogger Not Entitled to Shield Law Protection

English: TechnoBuffalo Blog - www.TechnoBuffal...Image via, a three-year-old, California-based consumer electronics blog that is a melange of gadget reviews and tech news, plans to appeal a ruling last week by Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Judge Michael Panter that the blog is not covered  under Illinois's shield law [75 Ill. Comp. Stat. secs. 5/8-901 to 8-909] from revealing its confidential sources.

Acknowledging that he was addressing "a fast-evolving issue (that) faces courts everywhere" and that the "scope and variety of electronic communication is a challenge in many areas of the law," Judge Panter concluded TechnoBuffalo did not satisfy the state shield law's definitions of reporter and news medium, and thus, must reveal the identity of the anonymous source who provided it with images and instructional information about Motorola's Droid Bionic smartphone before the company released the product.

Niles, Ill.-based Johns-Byrne Co., with whom Motorola contracted to print the smartphone's manual, sought a pre-litigation court order requiring TechnoBuffalo to divulge the name of the anonymous tipster who shared the Droid Bionic material as a precursor to a likely trade secret and breach of contract lawsuit against the unidentified source. The information at issue was leaked via Email to TechnoBuffalo, which published it last August 17.

"The content on TechnoBuffalo's website may inform viewers how to use certain devices or offer sneak peaks of upcoming technology," Judge Panter wrote, "...[but] [i]t does not 'encourage a well-informed citizenry' to protect the source and type of confidential information disseminated by TechnoBuffalo." TechnoBuffalo reportedly attracts more than a million viewers monthly, according to various news accounts of the ruling.

Under Section 5/8-902(a) of Illinois' shield law, a reporter is "any person regularly engaged in the business of collecting, writing or editing news for publication through a news medium on a full-time or part-time basis." Section 5/8-902(b) defines news medium as "any newspaper or other periodical issued at regular intervals, whether in print or electronic format, and having a general circulation."

Courts nationwide are all over the board on the issue of whether bloggers should be accorded a qualified reporter's privilege, depending on the language of the jurisdiction's shield law and other circumstances. An Oregon judge, for example, recently ruled self-described investigative blogger Crystal Cox could not benefit from Oregon's shield law [see "TUOL" post 12/6/11], while the New Hampshire Supreme Court in The Mortgage Specialists case preserved the confidentiality of anonymous bloggers [see "TUOL" post 5/10/10].

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