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    Montana Judge Rules Shield Law Protects Online News Commentators

    Found via Threat Level.

    The Billings Gazette reports on an interesting case in Montana where the judge applied the state’s media shield law to online commentators. According to Wired, Wyoming is the only state that doesn’t have a media shield law. Attorneys general from most states sent a letter (pdf) to Congress in June urging legislators to pass a federal media shield law called “The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007.”

    The Billings Gazette says:

    A District Court judge found Wednesday that the state shield law that protects reporters from disclosing anonymous sources also protects the identity of anonymous commentators on a newspaper’s Web site.

    Judge G. Todd Baugh granted a motion filed by The Billings Gazette to quash a subpoena that sought information that may lead to the identity of those who post comments on the newspaper’s online edition.

    Russ Doty, a 2004 candidate for the Public Service Commission, issued the subpoena as part of his civil lawsuit against Brad Molnar. The lawsuit accuses Molnar, who won the PCS election against Doty, of libel and slander during the campaign. […]

    Doty said he sought the information from the newspaper to bolster his claim that his reputation in the community had been harmed by the alleged libel he attributes to Molnar. Several newspaper commentators would be valuable witnesses in his case, Doty told the judge.

    Doty also sought the identity of newspaper commentators whom he suspected as being Molnar himself. The subpoena, served on the newspaper in July, sought “all electronic information … you have including but not limited to IP addresses, e-mail addresses, and other identity and contact information” for Molnar.

    The Montana Media Confidentiality Act states:

    26-1-902. Extent of privilege. (1) Without his or its consent no person, including any newspaper, magazine, press association, news agency, news service, radio station, television station, or community antenna television service or any person connected with or employed by any of these for the purpose of gathering, writing, editing, or disseminating news may be examined as to or may be required to disclose any information obtained or prepared or the source of that information in any legal proceeding if the information was gathered, received, or processed in the course of his employment or its business.

    (2) A person described in subsection (1) may not be adjudged in contempt by a judicial, legislative, administrative, or any other body having the power to issue subpoenas for refusing to disclose or produce the source of any information or for refusing to disclose any information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving, or processing information in the course of his or its business.

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