A young woman in Coalinga, California, following a visit home from college, penned to her MySpace page “An ode to Coalinga” (the “Ode”). The Ode opens with “the older I get, the more I realize how much I despise Coalinga” and then proceeds to make a number of extremely negative comments about Coalinga and its residents. She removed the Ode from her MySpace page within six days of posting it.
However, during the six days that the Ode was posted on MySpace, the principal of Coalinga high school discovered the Ode and sent it to his friend, the editor of the local paper, the Coalinga Record.
The editor of the Coalinga Record republished the Ode as a “Letter to the Editor,” adding the author’s last name (which was not present on the MySpace page). The author and her family received death threats, and a shot was fired at the family home, forcing the family to move out of Coalinga. Due to severe losses, her father closed the 20-year-old family business.
The California Court of Appeal, in Moreno et al. v. Hanford Sentinel, Inc., et al., F054138, slip op. (Cal. Ct. App. April 2, 2009) (PDF link) ruled that the principal did not invade the author’s privacy when he handed it over to the Coalinga Record. The court further held that the editor of the Coalinga Record did not violate the author’s rights when it published her full name.