An Oregon newspaper does not have to give up the identity of someone who commented anonymously on its website, a judge held this week, because the state shield law protects anonymous bloggers just as it does confidential sources.
A Web user who went by the name “Ronald” commented in January on a blog item of the Portland Mercury‘s Blogtown that reported on a local mayoral candidate’s ability to get public financing. The commenter made negative remarks about the candidate and the candidate’s alleged ties to a local businessman.
The businessman, Terry Beard, claimed he was defamed and filed a motion with a state court in Clackamas County to compel the Portland Mercury to give up the ISP address of “Ronald.”
The Oregon Shield Law protects a broad category of “information” including “electronically recorded news or other data” that is “obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving, or processing information for any medium of communication to the public.”
Judge James Redman found that the ISP address of the anonymous commenter constituted "information," as protected by the statute. Further, he held that the online comments were made in the course of gathering, receiving and processing news to the public.
“The Oregon Media Shield Law is broadly written and it is intended to protect a broad range of media activity, not simply news gathering,” Redman wrote. “This court feels compelled to follow the broad statutory language in regard to plaintiff’s motion to compel and therefore denies plaintiff’s motion to compel.”
Redman noted that in order to have the protection of the shield law, the blog comments must be about the actual topics discussed in the blog.
“If the comment had been totally unrelated to the blog post, then the argument could be made that the Portland Mercury did not receive it in the “course of gathering, receiving, or processing information for any medium of communication to the public,” Redman wrote.
Portland Mercury News Editor Amy Ruiz, who wrote the January blog that “Ronald” commented on, blogged about the victorious decision this week. She promised readers the Mercury would continue to go to court to protect anonymous speech, but she also urged readers to keep Redman’s point in mind and keep the comments on point.
This is the second decision in the past month in which a judge has allowed a state shield law to protect an anonymous blogger. A Montana judge ruled in early September that an anonymous commenter was similarily protected by that state’s shield law.