Skip to content

Web publisher wins right to contest city's denial of hyperlink

Post categories

  1. Prior Restraint

    NMU         SIXTH CIRCUIT         Prior Restraints         Jul 20, 2000    

Web publisher wins right to contest city’s denial of hyperlink

  • The publisher of an on-line newsletter won an appeal to contest a city’s refusal to hyperlink the city’s site to his newsletter.

The publisher of the on-line newsletter The Putnam Pit, will be allowed to contest the city of Cookeville’s refusal to create a link from the Tennessee city’s website to the Pit website, after an appellate court overturned the dismissal of his case.

The court found that a government-operated web site like that run by Cookeville has not been held out by the city as a forum for speech. It is instead a “nonpublic forum,” the court held, and therefore a private publisher has no entitlement to a link from the site. However, in such a forum any regulation of content must be “viewpoint neutral,” and the city cannot deny him a link “solely based on the controversial views he espouses,” the court held.

Publisher Geoffrey Davidian sued the city when his request for a hyperlink was denied. Davidian alleged that the city’s site constituted a public forum, thus giving him the broadest First Amendment protections in expressing his views, via a hyperlink to his website. But even if the city’s website was not a public forum, he argued, denying him a link due to his viewpoint unconstitutionally discriminated against him.

Davidian brought his case in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Cookeville. Along with his First Amendment claim over the hyperlink, Davidian also alleged First Amendment violations over the city’s refusal to provide him information about traffic violations in electronic form. The city had provided printed copies of the violations.

The District Court dismissed all of Davidian’s claims. On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati (6th Cir.), the court upheld the District Court’s dismissal of his electronic records claim, but ordered a new hearing over the city’s refusal of a web link.

Cookeville “has legitimate interests in keeping links that are consistent with the purpose of the site — providing information about city services, attractions, and officials,” but the city will have to prove that its denial of Davidian’s request for a link on the city’s site was a “viewpoint neutral” decision, the court held.

At trial, both the city’s computer operations manager and the city manager said that Davidian’s request was denied because they felt Davidian’s site expressed “controversial” points of view that they “didn’t care for.”

(The Putnam Pit, Inc. v. City of Cookeville; Media Counsel: Samuel Harris, Cookeville, TN) JM

Related stories:

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Return to: RCFP Home; News Page