1) Put up a semi-naked photo yourself
2) Talk about your personal sex habits
3) Take a shot at Steve Rubel
Congratulations to the Strumpette, who did all three in an inaugural post that gave the PR blogosphere something to do on Sunday besides watch basketball and catch up on ten hours worth of Hobson & Holtz Reports. Although I thought the post and comments were fun and entertaining overall, they also raised an important question: Is Steve Rubel a “public figure,” and if so, is there a line that should not be crossed? I’m not saying Strumpette or anyone else has crossed it, but what if it happens someday?
According to ExpertLaw.Com, the definition of a “public figure” is broader than celebrities and politicians. “A person can become an involuntary public figure’ as the result of publicity, even though that person did not want or invite the public attention,” the site says. Of course, Steve and other bloggers do invite attention – but they still may have some rights under the law. Read on:
“A person can also become a ‘limited public figure’ by engaging in actions which generate publicity within a narrow area of interest,” according to Expert Law. “For example, a woman named Terry Rakolta was offended by the Fox Television show, Married With Children, and wrote letters to the show's advertisers to try to get them to stop their support for the show. As a result of her actions, Ms. Rakolta became the target of jokes in a wide variety of settings. As these jokes remained within the confines of her public conduct, typically making fun of her as being prudish or censorious, they were protected by Ms. Rakolta's status as a ‘limited public figure.’”
A 2005 Wired News article supports this line of reasoning in citing a Florida case, where a judge ruled that a local woman was a “public figure” because she had been subject to “substantial” Internet debate.
"It's sort of judicial recognition of the importance of internet news," George Gabel, a Florida media attorney, said in the Wired article. "It shows the power of individuals on the internet."
I’m sure Steve has a thick skin and the ruckus over the weekend probably didn’t cause him to lose any sleep. Nevertheless, if there is a line to be crossed, someone will cross it – and the person on the receiving end may not forgive as easily or without a legal fight.