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!)