Court Lauds Blogs “As A Means Of Free Dissemination Of News And Public Comment”–Comins v. Vanvoorhis

Photo credit: I Love Blogging // ShutterStock

Photo credit: I Love Blogging // ShutterStock

A number of states have “retraction” laws that require plaintiffs to demand a retraction from media defendants before suing for defamation. How these laws apply to Internet publishers arose early in the development of Internet jurisprudence. For example, in the 1995 case It’s In the Cards v. Fuschetto, the court held that the Wisconsin retraction statute didn’t apply to an online bulletin board service.

The Internet industry has changed a lot in the last 20 years, and now it’s clearer that many blogs are the functional equivalent of media publications. Check out how one Florida court addressed the issue (I’ve bolded some of my favorite parts):

it is hard to dispute that the advent of the internet as a medium and the emergence of the blog as a means of free dissemination of news and public comment have been transformative. By some accounts, there are in the range of 300 million blogs worldwide. The variety and quality of these are such that the word “blog” itself is an evolving term and concept. The impact of blogs has been so great that even terms traditionally well defined and understood in journalism are changing as journalists increasingly employ the tools and techniques of bloggers—and vice versa. In employing the word “blog,” we consider a site operated by a single individual or a small group that has primarily an informational purpose, most commonly in an area of special interest, knowledge or expertise of the blogger, and which usually provides for public impact or feedback. In that sense, it appears clear that many blogs and bloggers will fall within the broad reach of “media,” and, if accused of defamatory statements, will qualify as a “media defendant” for purposes of Florida’s defamation law as discussed above.

There are many outstanding blogs on particular topics, managed by persons of exceptional expertise, to whom we look for the most immediate information on recent developments and on whom we rely for informed explanations of the meaning of these developments. Other blogs run the gamut of quality of expertise, explanation and even-handed treatment of their subjects. We are not prepared to say that all blogs and all bloggers would qualify for the protection of section 770.01, Florida Statutes, but we conclude that VanVoorhis’s blog, at issue here, is within the ambit of the statute’s protection as an alternative medium of news and public comment.


Case citation: Comins v. Vanvoorhis, 2014 WL 1393081 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. April 11, 2014)