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She wrote About Porn: N.J. appeals court hears arguments whether blogger is protected by shield laws

from www.nj.com – In the ongoing dispute between a Freehold-based company and a blogger sued for writing about the online pornography industry, a state appeals panel heard arguments [Tuesday] over whether she should be considered a member of the media and protected by New Jersey’s shield laws.

In their questioning of the attorneys for blogger Shellee Hale and Too Much Media LLC, the trio of appellate judges acknowledged they were treading into largely uncharted territory in determining what type of comments on the internet can be considered slander or libel.

The appellate panel, sitting at Rutgers Law School in Camden, is trying to determine whether Hale, a mother of five and a blogger from Washington State, is considered a journalist and a member of the media when she was gathering information in 2009 about an internet security breach at TMM.

At issue are comments she posted on a message board of an adult entertainment website accusing the principals of TMM of threatening her life.

The company sued and wants her to pay punitive damages for what it claims are comments that sullied its reputation. In an attempt to block TMM from forcing her to reveal her sources as part of the lawsuit, Hale sought to have the suit dismissed or to have a judge declare her protected under New Jersey’s so-called shield laws that protect journalists from disclosing their sources.

After court today, TMM attorney Joel Kreizman said Hale may have been acting as a journalist when she was preparing an article for her own website, but he contended she was nothing more than an irresponsible member of the public posting libelous or slanderous comments when she wrote on the message board.

Traditionally, slander has been defined as spoken defamation and libel as written defamation. However, Kreizman contends the internet changes that because its contents can be accessed indefinitely.

‘‘As a result, months and months from now we could be in a situation where we don’t know if we lost a customer because of what they saw when they Googled us,’’ he said. ‘‘Other than being a blogger, she didn’t do anything to show she was a journalist.’’

Hale’s attorney, Jeffrey Pollock, contends she was investigating TMM’s security breach when she was posting comments on the message board and therefore should be protected by the shield laws.

‘‘She was doing all the things someone would do to investigate, Pollock said.

Appellate Judges Philip Carchman, Anthony Parrillo and Marie Lihotz did not indicate when they would issue a decision.

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