Too Much Media, LLC v. Hale, No. MON-L-2736-08 (N.J. Super. Ct., June 30, 2009).
Factual Background Edit
Defendant Hale operates various websites where she offers her services as a life coach. These services take a number of forms, including webcam interactions and a blog. Hale has never been employed by any news agency, nor has she ever been paid for the content of her blogs or websites.
In 2007 Hale launched a campaign against criminal activity in the online adult entertainment industry following a problem she experienced with people exposing themselves during webcam sessions on her website. Part of her campaign was a website called Pornafia where she intended to post information on the alleged criminal activity within the adult entertainment industry. Additionally, she registered for at least two porn industry online forums to discuss her point of view.
Too Much Media, LLC ("TMM") produces affiliate management software called NATS. In 2008 major news agencies began reporting that TMM became aware of a security breach, which allowed a hacker to access various adult websites’ subscriber lists. Hale made several postings to online forums regarding the breach including allegations of statutory violations on the part of the plaintiff as well as claims of impropriety and improper business dealings.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
In response to Hale’s comments Too Much Media brought this action for defamation.
New Jersey's Shield Law states:
|“||[A] person engaged on, engaged in, connected with, or employed by news media for the purpose of gathering, procuring, transmitting, compiling, editing or disseminating news for the general public or on whose behalf news is so gathered, procured, transmitted, compiled, edited or disseminated has a privilege to refuse to disclose, in any legal or quasi-legal proceeding or before any investigative body, including, but not limited to, any court, grand jury, petit jury, administrative agency, the Legislature or legislative committee, or elsewhere.||”|
To invoke this protection a defendant must establish a connecting with the "news media," the statutory definition of which has been expanded by case law to include such media as magazines, biographical novels, and documentary videotapes. The court was unconvinced that Hale could establish any statutory connection to news media. While the defendant argued that one of the sites she posted her comments on billed itself as the "Wall Street Journal" of porn, that alone did not transform the site into anything more than an online forum. Additionally, the court could not find any similarity between the forum and the statutorily recognized forms of media. While the recognized forms also had online components the court was fearful of extending Shield Law protection to "anyone with an email address, with no connection to any legitimate news publication."
Even though Hale's stated intent for creating her blog was to disseminate "news to the general public," the comments in question were made on a third party site without ever contacting TMM's representatives for their side of the story. There was nothing in Hale's actions or comments that resembled the activities of a member of legitimate media. Because of Hale's status as an individual with no connection to "news media" she was not allowed to avail herself of the Shield Protection law.
Because the court did not find membership in adult websites a matter of public concern, the plaintiff also did not have to show actual malice for its claims. Furthermore, as Hale's statements concerned conduct relating to a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or regarded by the public as regarding moral turpitude, as well as the plaintiff's ability to perform its trade or profession, TMM was not required to show actual harm to bring a claim for damages.