FREEHOLD, N.J. -- Adult software company Too Much Media is suing a Washington State woman for slander and today (Thursday) a New Jersey judge will hear the case.
According to the New Jersey Star- Ledger newspaper, Shellee Hale claimed on various message boards that a 2007 security breach may have exposed customers' private information to hackers. New Jersey-based Too Much Media, which offers affiliate-tracking NATS software, has denied any such breach and has also demanded she reveal her sources.
Hale, a self-proclaimed "hockey mom," has refused, arguing she's protected by laws shielding journalist. Her attorney also says that slander only applies to the spoken, not written word and is asking Monmouth County Superior Court to dismiss the lawsuit.
Hale also claims her life was threatened by Too Much Media, a charge the company vehemently denies.
Too Much Media's legal team contends Hale is not a journalist, but just a blogger. She writes four regular blogs, generally featuring pieces regarding Internet security, though she's also contributed to publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Business Week, all of which form the basis of her attorney's contention that she is a protected journalist. Additionally, she has a private investigator's license, reports the Star-Ledger.
Too Much Media heads John Albright and Charles Berrebbi told the newspaper that Hale's postings, including her claims they endangered her life, were slander against them and the company.
The lawsuit, filed last June in Superior Court by Too Much Media's attorney Joel N. Kreizman, said Hale "has embarked on a campaign to defame and otherwise malign the plaintiffs in those chat rooms."
"She has seized upon and utilized the security breach as the underlying theme of her attacks," the filing continues. "But they are made without any basis in fact and without any concern for truth."
According to the court papers, Hale began writing about Internet security after her group of friends -- mostly mothers like herself -- expressed distaste over constant unsolicited pop-up ads on sites, spam e-mails and such.
Hales' attorney, Jeffrey Pollock, told the paper that while libel and slander have been litigated heavily for TV and radio, "when it comes to websites, not so much."
The New Jersey newspaper notes a lawsuit of this type has not been common in The Garden State, but with the higher profile of blogs, message boards and networking sites, that could change -- in numerous states.
"It's rare, but I think it's going to become more common as that becomes the primary way of people communicating," said Tom Cafferty, counsel to the New Jersey Press Association to the paper.
However, Cafferty questioned Hale's protection claim, suggesting that just because she contributed to legitimate publications didn't necessarily mean she is shielded in this particular case.
The court is likely to examine whether she was issuing information through a publication or for her own agenda, as judges don't simply award protection on a "just because" basis. If that was the case, Cafferty told the paper, "then everyone is a journalist and the privilege becomes meaningless."
Neither Too Much Media attorney Kreizman nor Hale's lawyer Pollock could be reached for comment as both were in court Thursday.