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Thursday, April 11, 2002

Are You A "Public Figure?" The convergence of these items prompts me to pose the question - • John Hiler's article about, and proposed Code Of Ethics for, weblog "journalists." ("Sometimes a blog is just a blog. But sometimes it's not.") • Chris Pirillo's recent troubles, and Eric Norlin's observations about "super node status." • Attorney Richard Sprague's agreement to be treated as a "limited purpose" public figure in his libel lawsuit against the ABA, stemming from an ABA Journal article that dubbed him "perhaps the most powerful lawyer-cum-fixer in the state" (Sprague doesn't like the "fixer" part, because it could imply he improperly manipulates the outcome of cases). [] As illustrated by Richard Sprague's suit against the ABA, "public figure" status makes it more difficult to bring and win a defamation case. See also The Chilling Effects Clearinghouse ("The degree of protection [against a defamation claim] generally depends on whether the person commented about is a private or public figure and whether the statement is regarding a private or public matter. According to the New York Times rule, when the plaintiff is a public figure and the matter is also public, the plaintiff must prove 'malice' on the part of the defendant. If both parties are private individuals, there is less protection because the plaintiff only needs to prove negligence;" emphasis added). The proliferation of weblogs is bound to add twists to this area of law. Traditionally (and logically), public figure status has turned on "prominence," and can attach to those who, for example, "thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved." See Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 345 (1974). Can the day be far off when a blogger will attempt to answer libel allegations (see John Hiler's article) by pointing to the subject's Daypop and Blogdex numbers?

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