Blogger Who Wrote About A Business Wins Defamation Lawsuit

Considering the lifeblood of The Consumerist is publicizing stories of bad businesses and bad business practices—including drawing attention to personal stories on other peoples’ blogs—we were happy to read that blogger Philip Smith won the federal defamation and trademark dilution lawsuit brought against him by a company he wrote about on his personal blog. Although it doesn’t guarantee that other angry business owners or their legal teams won’t come after you for writing about your unpleasant experiences with them, it cheers us to know that, at least in this case, a federal judge felt that Smith should be protected from retaliation for telling his side of the story. “It’s not about the title, it’s about the content, said Judge Henry Hurlong, Jr.; a journalist turns out to be anyone who does journalism, and bloggers who do so have the same rights and privileges under federal law as the ‘real’ journalists.”

The judge noted that Smith wrote the article in order to convey information, that he had done research in preparing it, that he addressed both positive and negative aspects of his experience, and that he provided a checklist for others to use. “The fact that Smith reports negatively about his experience with BidZirk does not dictate that the article’s function or intent was not news reporting or news commentary,” wrote the judge.

The judge also sanctioned the attorney for the business for clouding the title to Smith’s condo, making it difficult for him to sell it:

As a “competent attorney,” the court found that he should have known that what he had done was totally improper, since the case in question was not about the title to any real estate, and lawyers can’t simply go clouding up the title to people’s homes to ensure they get paid at the end of a case. Elwell was forced to pay $1,000 in fines directly to Smith.

Oh, and you might not want to do business with BidZirk—they seem to be fairly aggressive against unhappy customers.

“Can bloggers be journalists? Federal court says yes” [ArsTechnica] (thanks to Philip!)
(Image: BidZirk)

Comments

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  1. UESC says:

    wow, remind me to not do business with bidzirk!

  2. Canuck047 says:

    Has Consumerist ever had to defend itself in court?

  3. MonkeyMonk says:

    It seems like scummy business owners always have a like-minded scummy lawyer representing them. Glad to hear they lost.

  4. Consumers need to band together. I’m glad Consumerist and blogs of the like are around. Power to the people.

  5. nursetim says:

    Score one for the Pajamas Media

  6. kellsbells says:

    Wow – they put a cloud on his title? Unless there was already a judgment entered against him or a legitimate lien (which this would not qualify as) that’s just….cold. And I’m not even a lawyer! (but I play on on TV).

  7. humphrmi says:

    When any company with lawyers on retainer (big, medium or small) threaten individuals with legal action, the individual usually backs down due to financial considerations. This sets a precedent that, while not founded in any legal basis, provides impetus for other companies with lawyers on retainer to bully around individuals.

    It’s good to see that someone, an individual, goes against traditional wisdom, doesn’t back down, and puts their own financial livelyhood on the line to fight back and break that precedent.

    I don’t even know who this guy is, but he’s now my hero. Bravo to Phillip Smith.

  8. crnk says:

    amazing! Great to hear that 1) the legal system is doing something against frivolous lawsuits/liens/etc and 2) that bloggers can be considered a legitimate journalistic source (if conducted in the proper manner)

  9. Cowboys_fan says:

    “a journalist turns out to be anyone who does journalism, and bloggers who do so have the same rights and privileges under federal law as the ‘real’ journalists.”

    Thats a joke right? I keep a journal so by definition, I too am a journalist, do I get the same protection under federal law!?
    I do not disagree with this specific decision, but this is a precedent I would not like to see used exclusively. Some guy on his computer who didn’t go to school, didn’t take english or ethics classes, and may have never read a book cannot be protected in the same ways.

  10. Sonnymooks says:

    @Canuck047: If they have, I doubt it.

    This blog is owned by gawker media, which is a big big company, only an idiot or someone with nothing to lose would dare go against the legal team that consumerist can employ.

    Gawker is not mom and pop, they are a big media company, fighting them, is like fighting walmart.

  11. Sonnymooks says:

    @Cowboys_fan:

    This is a big issue now, but basically, there are folks who would say your a journalist, and others who would say your not.

    Long story short, it depends on your interpretation of the constitution, and also your beliefs about “special rights” and such. This is also why the press may lose many of its privaledges soon.

  12. alk509 says:

    @Cowboys_fan:

    I keep a journal so by definition, I too am a journalist, do I get the same protection under federal law!?”

    RTFA. It’s about journalism of the “news-gathering-and-reporting” kind, not the “Diary-writing” kind (which, by the way, is known as “journal-writing”, or informally as “journaling”, not “journalism”).

    Some guy on his computer who didn’t go to school, didn’t take english or ethics classes, and may have never read a book cannot be protected in the same ways.

    Of course he can. Laws in civilized countries are supposed to apply equally to everyone, educated or not. I assume your argument is that without knowledge of journalism ethics this hypothetical guy could write poorly-researched/slanderous/false/misleading pieces. But then those pieces wouldn’t qualify as legitimate journalism as per the judge’s decision. Again, RTFA.

  13. agb says:

    @alk509: Thanks. :-)