Tortious Interference

If you aren’t familiar with the BatesLine / Tulsa World dispute, check out that link. The nuts and bolts of it is that The Tulsa World newspaper has claimed that a blogger (BatesLine) violated their copyright by excerpting from editorials and stories, and even more amazingly, by linking to their site without their permission. Well, now they have done more than that, and I believe they have opened themselves up to a lawsuit now that they have Whirled threat update” href=”http://www.batesline.com/archives/001288.html”>threatened the ISP of another group and caused them to have to move to a new hosting provider.

The Tulsa World sent the same threat of legal action to the hosting provider for www.tulsansforelectionintegrity.com, the website for Tulsans for Election Integrity (TfEI) the opposition to the recall of reform Councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock. TfEI was told they had 24 hours to remove links and quotes or their service would be cut off. They’ll be looking for a new provider, one less susceptible to the World’s pressure.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I could be best described as a sophisticated layperson.

This sounds to me, as a layperson, as an open and shut case of tortious interference with a contract:

The causing of harm by disrupting something that belongs to someone else — for example, interfering with a contractual relationship so that one party fails to deliver goods on time.

TFEI had a contract with it’s hosting provider. That contract has now been broken because Tulsa World sent a fraudulent and malicious letter to the hosting provider. According to what I can google on Oklahoma law, these are the elements of tortious interference under the Oklahoma code:

Oklahoma law requires that a plaintiff prove:

1. That it had a business or contractual right with which there was interference.

2. That the interference was malicious and wrongful, and that such interference was neither justified, privileged nor excusable.

3. That damage was proximately sustained as a result of the complained-of interference.

Element one is proven, I believe, in that the contract would be in effect if not for the intentional acts of Tulsa World in sending this letter to the Hosting Provider. The second element is more involved. There is evidence that the act was malicious, in that there are acts which would constitute clear copyright violations from Coalition for Responsible Government, a rival organization that the Editorial Board of the Tulsa World is sympathetic to. Tulsa World cannot, as I understand equitable estoppel, claim that it is simply zealously protecting its copyright while neglecting to take any action against another actor who is engaging in even more egregious behavior, simply because it wishes to tacitly support the goals of the second actor.

The TFEI would also need to show that the actions were wrongful. If this letter did indeed claim that simply “unauthorized linking” was actionable and placing the Hosting Provider in peril, then this would indeed be an unexcused and wrongful act, in that it is fraudulent. It would be reasonable to expect the editor of a major newspaper to understand this is not in any way a valid copyright claim, and one would reasonably expect a major newspaper editor to be well versed in copyright law and to recognize when he was outside his realm of expertise and seek counsel. This claim is one that cannot be defended as a good faith claim by Tulsa World — the idea is so preposterous that it must be malicious and evidence of bad faith.

I don’t know enough about Oklahoma law to say one way or the other if the third element could be fulfilled. The third element would be fulfilled by the burden of having to change providers. I don’t know if Oklahoma has a presumption of damages in a case of bad faith, and this sounds like a bad faith case. These are questions that an Oklahoma lawyer (shudder) would have to answer.

All I know is that as a layperson, if I was calling the shots at TFEI, I would be calling a lawyer.

3 Comments

  1. The Fire Ant Gazette says:

    Tulsa World and tortious interference

    The Tulsa World keeps digging a deeper hole for itself, as a blogger makes a very good argument regarding tortious interference by the newspaper.

  2. BatesLine says:

    Whirled guilty of tortious interference?

    The Everlasting Phelps believes that the Tulsa World has gone too far in pressuring the hosting provider for Tulsans for Election Integrity and has opened itself up for legal action: This sounds to me, as a layperson, as an open and shut case of tortio…

  3. Okies R STOOPID! I know ’cause I R 1.

    Since when did anyone in Oklahoma start obeying the law?
    …Praise the Lard.