Is TechCrunch liable for publishing Twitter documents?

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Is TechCrunch liable for publishing Twitter documents?

Mon Jul 20, 2009 @ 12:33AM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Twitter As technology develops and plays a bigger part in all our lives, we're beginning to sense a burgeoning relationship between hackers of the world and some in the media who are hungry to post scintillating, private information.

Sometimes a reporter is the beneficiary of documents passed along by some hacker, as was the case last year when Gawker published e-mails from vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. And sometimes a reporter works actively with hackers to attain sensitive information. Just last week, Rupert Murdoch's News Group Newspapers paid about $1.6 million to settle court cases involving allegations that its reporters worked with private investigators to hack into numerous public figures' cellphones. 

What are the ethical boundaries in the media's relationship with a hacker? What's the legal liability for posting information obtained after an individual's violation of the law?

We might be seeing a case enfolding that will explore both questions.

Last week, TechCrunch editors got their hands on some of Twitter's confidential corporate and personal documents, including financial forecasts for the company and what TechCrunch described as an "awesome" pitch for a reality television show called "Final Tweet." 

The documents were given to the highly-trafficked blog by a hacker who appears to have obtained them through surreptitious means. TechCrunch described the dilemma over whether they should post the documents. After speaking with some Twitter lawyers, they decided to publish some of the documents with "news value."

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone says the company is talking to legal counsel and exploring its options. We assume that litigation is on the table. 

TechCrunch's action is kicking off some debate over the ethics of a news organization's relationship with hackers (1, 2, 3) but just as pertinent is the blog's liability. Does the First Amendment protect the publication of stolen Twitter documents? Twitter just hired a new general counsel and if he wants to make a mark, here's a place to start.

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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