A Cook County, Ill., judge Friday ruled that a California technology blog doesn't qualify as a reporter and ordered it to turn over information on the tipster who leaked details about a Motorola cellphone.
Gadget blog TechnoBuffalo, a 3-year-old site that says it has a million readers a month, published images in August taken from the user's guide for the Droid Bionic a few weeks before the phone went on sale.
It has so far declined to turn over any information on the tipster, arguing that it was publishing news and so is protected under journalist shield laws in Illinois and California. A spokesman for the blog, which has a staff of writers and editors, said the case is the first time in Illinois that a judge has been asked to rule whether a blogger is the same as a journalist in the law's eyes.
On Friday, Judge Michael Panter, while acknowledging that it was "a fast-evolving issue facing courts everywhere," ruled that TechnoBuffalo isn't a news medium and its bloggers aren't protected under Illinois shield laws for journalists.
Elizabeth Bradshaw, an attorney for the blog, said she plans to appeal and the decision potentially "poses a threat to all news media, including bloggers."
The blog's president, Jonathan Rettinger, issued a statement saying he was "extremely disappointed."
In September, Johns-Byrne Co., a Niles, Ill.-based printing house, filed a petition seeking the name of the tipster who leaked the images. The company allegedly wants to pursue a lawsuit against the person, thought to be an employee, who released the images.
TechnoBuffalo asked a Cook County judge to deny the request, saying it was no different from a traditional news outlet like The Washington Post that also covers the technology industry.
But attorneys for Johns-Byrne Co. said in a court filing that TechnoBuffalo was publishing nothing more than "commercial hype pertaining to a cellphone" and was trying to protect a "common thief."
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