Charles D. Tobin

Tel 202.661.2218
Fax 202.661.2299
Washington, DC

Charles D. Tobin is a litigator, former journalist, and the Practice Leader of Ballard Spahr's Media and Entertainment Law Group. He defends the media in libel and privacy lawsuits in state and federal trial and appellate courts throughout the country. He conducts prepublication content review and advises clients on subpoenas, access and privilege issues, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, copyright matters, and First Amendment rights.

Chuck also represents businesses in matters involving unfair competition, disparagement, and false advertising. He helps digital media clients respond to takedown requests, develop terms of use and privacy policies, and fend off subpoenas seeking the identities of anonymous posters. In addition, he advises media clients on the developing laws regulating drone use.

Prior to entering private practice, Chuck spent eight years as in-house counsel at Gannett, which owns print and digital media outlets across the country—including USA TODAY. He has taught media law and ethics at George Washington University and the University of North Florida and, before entering law school, was a reporter for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida.

Professional Activities

Member, National Press Club Journalism Institute Board of Directors

Past Chair, American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law

American Bar Association, Litigation Section, Senior Editor, Litigation Journal

Past Chair, District of Columbia Bar Association Media Law Committee

Past Chair, Florida Bar Media and Communications Law Committee

Past President, Media Law Resource Center, Defense Counsel Section

Advisory Board, Indiana University Center for Media Law and Policy

Advisory Board, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications

Honors & Awards

Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award,  2020

2018 Alumni of Distinction Award, College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida 

National Press Photographers Association, Alicia Calzada First Amendment Award, 2017

The Best Lawyers in America, First Amendment Law, Litigation: First Amendment, Media Law, 2007-2021

Chambers USA, Media & Entertainment Law (District of Columbia), 2008-2017, 2019-2020; First Amendment Litigation (Nationwide), 2009-2020

Top Lawyer, Washingtonian magazine, First Amendment and Media, 2008-2015

Washington, D.C., Super Lawyers, 2007-2020

Award of Honor, PEN USA, 2007

Client Service All-Star, The BTI Consulting Group, Inc.


Co-author, "DOL Opinion Letter Expands Exemption for Journalists and Media Personnel," Ballard Spahr alert, January 21, 2021 

Co-author, "Trump Campaign Admits Defeat (In Wisconsin Defamation Case Against Local Broadcaster)," MLRC, December 2020

Co-author, "Trump Administration Releases Data on "Colossal" COVID Loan Programs," MLRC MediaLawLetter, November 2020

Co-author, "Coronavirus Tests the Commitment to Government Transparency," American Bar Association's Litigation Journal, Summer 2020

"Message to Newer Litigators: Don’t Just Wait by the Phone," American Bar Association's Litigation Journal, Winter 2020

Co-author, "Will Federal Preemption Push Drone Journalism to New Heights? State, Municipal Regulations Suspect Following Singer v. City of Newton," Communications Lawyer, Spring 2019

Co-author, "Puerto Rico District Court Declines to Address Preemption Challenge to San Juan Drone Regulation," MLRC MediaLawLetter, January 2019

Co-author, "Court: White House Violated Constitution in Yanking CNN Press Pass," Ballard Spahr alert, November 16, 2018

Co-author, "New Trade Agreement Extends CDA Section 230 Immunity Abroad," Ballard Spahr alert, October 4, 2018

Co-author, "Mexican Journalist Seeking Asylum Finally Free From Detention," MLRC MediaLawLetter, July 2018

Co-author, "First Amendment Bars Trump from Blocking Critics on Twitter, Court Rules," Ballard Spahr alert, May 24, 2018

Co-author, "Mexican Journalist Seeking Asylum is Granted New Hearing," MLRC MediaLawLetter, May 2018

Co-author, "Seventeen Journalism Organizations File Amicus Brief in Support of Mexican Journalist's Asylum Appeal," MLRC MediaLawLetter, March 2018

Co-author, "Communications Decency Act in Flux on the Hill, Remains Solid in Court," Ballard Spahr alert, March 29, 2018

Co-author, "Political Campaigns, College Campuses, and Free Speech," Ballard Spahr alert, March 27, 2018

Co-author, "11th Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Ex-NFL Coach's Defamation Action," Ballard Spahr alert, February, 12, 2018

Co-author, "Media Coalition Gains Access to Sealed Warrant Materials in Las Vegas Mass Shooting," Ballard Spahr alert, January 30, 2018

Co-author, "Ninth Circuit Rules California 'No Credit Card Surcharge' Law Violates First Amendment," Ballard Spahr alert, January 8, 2018 

"White House Announces Possible Precursor to Stricter Local Regulation for Drone Journalism," Ballard Spahr alert, October 26, 2017 

Co-author, "Public Official or Private Citizen? In Free Speech Cases, Courts Must Decide," Ballard Spahr alert, September 5, 2017 

Co-author, "Charges of 'Fake News' May Bring New Threats from Jury Verdicts," Ballard Spahr alert, August 22, 2017 

Co-author, "After Charlottesville, How Committed Do We Remain to Free Speech for All?", Communications Lawyer, Fall 2017

"D.C. Circuit: FOIA Follows Agency Chiefs Emails Stored on a Private Server," MLRC MediaLaw Letter, July 2016

"FOIA Follows Clinton's Emails to Her Private Servers," Daily Journal, July 12, 2016

"FAA Releases Final Rule, Opens Skies for Drone Journalism," MLRC MediaLawLetter, June 2016

Co-author, "Newsgathering Takes Flight in Choppy Skies: Legal Obstacles Affecting Journalistic Drone Use," Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, May 2016

"Florida Appellate Court Unseals Court Records in Hulk Hogan v. Gawker," MLRC MediaLawLetter, April 2016

"Lights, Cameras, Drones!" American Bar Association's Litigation Magazine, Spring 2016

"News Drones Updates: Micro UAS and Privacy," MLRC MediaLawLetter, February 2016

"Newsgathering and Drones: A Year in Review," MLRC MediaLawLetter, December 2015

"Unmasking Internet Posters: Balancing the Parties' Interests with the First Amendment Right of Anonymity," The Circuit Rider, November 2015

"Right To Be Forgotten, Expungement Laws Raise New Challenges on the 40th Anniversary of Cox Broadcasting v. Cohn," Communications Lawyer, Fall 2015

"DC Circ. Clarifies FOIA Public-Interest, Media Fee Waivers," MLRC MediaLawLetter; Law360, September 16, 2015

"Drone Law Clouds Skies Over Sunshine State," The Brechner Report, July 2015

"Florida Court Applies Privilege To ABC News Outtakes In Murder-For-Hire Case," MLRC MediaLawLetter, June 2015

Co-author, "Facts, Nonfacts, and Academic Libel: The Jurisprudence of Reputation in the Ivory Tower," Communications Lawyer, Spring 2015

"Indecent Attacks on the Communications Decency Act?" Litigation, Spring 2015

"Drone Journalist Can Sue Policeman Who Got Him Suspended," MLRC MediaLawLetter, April 2015

"Media Coalition to FAA, NTIA: Let News Drones Fly Now," MLRC MediaLawLetter, April 2015

"NTSB Rules for FAA in Huerta v. Pirker. What's Next for News Drones?" MLRC MediaLawLetter, November 2014

"Vetting Stories About Interviews With Alleged Victims and Witnesses," MLRC MediaLawLetter, July 2014

Co-author, "Material Falsity in Defamation Cases: The Supreme Court's Call for Contextual Analysis," Communications Lawyer, June 2014

"News Media Coalition Weighs in to Support Drone Photographer in NTSB Litigation," MLRC MediaLawLetter, May 2014

"The FOIA 'Exclusions' Statute: The Government's License to Lie," Communications Lawyer, American Bar Association, March 2014

"Report That Prosecutor Gave "False Testimony" Not Actual Malice, Maryland Judge Rules," MLRC MediaLawLetter, August 2013

Co-author, "Dozens of Civil Rights Era Files Will Be Released In Settlement of DC FOIA Case," MLRC MediaLawLetter, March 2013

"Help Restore Balance to Free Expression Litigation with Anti-SLAPP Statutes," Communications Lawyer, June 2012

"Media Coalition Keeps Court Records Open in Trayvon Martin Shooting Prosecution," MLRC MediaLawLetter, June 2012

"Judge Finds That FBI in FOIA Case "Officially Confirmed" Identity of Civil Rights Informant," MLRC MediaLawLetter, February 2012

"Virginia Federal Court Dismisses Defamation Claim Against Broadcast Warning Of "Unscrupulous" Tax Preparers," MLRC MediaLawLetter, February 1, 2012

Co-author, "Social Media Risks to Corporate Communicators," CNA, February 2012, republished in Association of Corporate Counsel's North Florida Chapter Focus Newsletter, 2Q 2012

"First Amendment Caste System," Communications Lawyer, January 4, 2012

"D.C. Court Grants First Anti-SLAPP Motion," MLRC MediaLawLetter, December 2011

"OMG! 'Twibel' Claims? R U 4 Real?" Communications Lawyer, November 2011

Co-author, "Florida Court Says 'Aloha' to Copyright Suit Against Hawaii Publisher Over Obamaland Book," MLRC MediaLawLetter, September 1, 2011

"Inglorious Bastards and Other Patriotic Americans," Communications Lawyer, June 1, 2011

"Maryland Court Quashes Subpoena to TV Journalist for Testimony Concerning Broadcast on Locksmith's Business Practices," MLRC MediaLawLetter, May 2011

"Not That There's Anything Wrong with That: Imputations of Homosexuality and the Nonnative Structure of Defamation Law," Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, Spring 2011

"Statutory Damage Award under Copyright Act Reduced on Constitutional Grounds," Digital Technology & £-Commerce Blog, July 15, 2010

"Online and Off-Line Publisher Liability and the Independent Contractor Defense," Communications Lawyer, Volume 26, Number 2, March 1, 2009

"Update: Newspaper Publisher's Defamation Suit Against Freelance Journalist Dismissed," MLRC MediaLawLetter, October 1, 2008

"New York Federal Court Dismissed Claim Against America University Magazine for Faux Gay Alumni Note," Media Law Resource Center, January 2008

"Florida Court Reverses Injunction Prohibiting Television Station From Broadcasting Documents," MLRC MediaLawLetter, October 1, 2007

"Sanctions Against Libel Plaintiff, Counsel, for Hiding Criminal Record in Discovery," MLRC MediaLawLetter, September 1, 2007

"Taxpayers pay dearly for FEMA's obstinance, arrogance" The Brechner Report (University of Florida), April 1, 2007

Co-author, "Litigating Retaliation Claims After Baltimore Sun v. Ehrlich," Communications Lawyer, Winter 2006

"HIV Disclosure Leads to Billion-Dollar Suit Against Dallas Newspaper," MLRC MediaLawLetter, September 1, 2004

"Dead Men Make Lousy Witnesses," MLRC MediaLawLetter, July 21, 2004

"Fee Awards for In-house Counsel: Just Dessert or Forbidden Fruit?" MLRC Media Law Letter, January 1, 2003

Speaking Engagements

Speaker, "Newsroom Legal Topics," Local News Builds Communities Conference & Celebration, Annapolis, MD, May 10, 2019

Panelist, "The Power of Investigative Journalism," Midwest Journalism Conference, Bloomington, MN, April 12, 2019

"Media Law in the Age of Trump," Excellence in Journalism 2018, Baltimore, September 29, 2018

"Drones," MLRC Media Law Conference 2018, Reston, VA, September 28, 2018

"Up in the Air—Using Drones to Cover Stories," Society of Professional Journalists D.C. Pro Chapter, Washington, D.C., July 9, 2018

Speaker, "Balancing Privacy and the Right to Know in Open Societies," American Bar Association 2018 Paris Sessions, Paris, June 7, 2018 

"And That’s The Way It Is: Media In The Trump Era," 37th Annual Representing Your Local Broadcaster – Prime Time!, Las Vegas, April 8, 2018

Speaker, "New Challenges to Freedom of Expression in Higher Education," Ballard Spahr webinar, March 8, 2018 

"Trump, Media & Entertainment: Coping with Chaos," 15th Annual Entertainment & Media Law Conference, Los Angeles, January 18, 2018

"Media Defense/Law," Mid-Atlantic College Newspaper Conference, October 28, 2017 

"Update on Federal, State and Municipal Regulatory Framework," Drone Journalism Leadership Summit presented by the National Press Photographers Association and Google, September 14, 2017

"Does the Internet Risk Bankrupting the First Amendment? Evaluating the Hulk Hogan v. Gawker Verdict on the Anniversary of Reno v. ACLU," 22nd Annual Conference of the ABA Forum on Communications Law, February 9-11, 2017

"Access Denied: Your Rights When Government Shuts Media Out," Poynter's New University, January 27, 2017

"What do you mean, NO?" Newspaper Association Managers Legislative Conference 2016, December 4, 2016

"Global Internet and Jurisdiction Conference," Invited Delegate, November 14-16, 2016

"Can a President Really Rewrite the First Amendment? A Look at Campaign Threats and their Potential Impact on the Media," The National Press Club Journalism Institute's Press Freedom Committee, Panelist, October 12, 2016

"Relationship with Sources and the Reporters' Privilege," MLRC Media Law Workshop, September 20, 2016

"Privacy, Private Business, and the Media in the Age of Drones, Body Cams, and Hidden Cameras," The Florida Bar's Media Law Conference, June 17, 2016

"Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: A Bird's Eye View of the Drone Law Landscape," ABA Section of Litigation Section Annual Conference, April14, 2016

"Using Unmanned Aerial Systems for Newsgathering," 2016 Advertising and News Conference, Virginia Press Association/Associated Press, April 9, 2016

"Representing Unpopular or Controversial Clients," Owen Panner Inn of Court, February 9, 2016

"Political $peech or Dirty Money? The 40th Anniversary of Buckley v. Valeo," American Bar Association's Forum on Communications Law 21st Annual Conference, February 4-6, 2016

"The Rise of Drones: The Legal and Regulatory Challenges on the Horizon," American Bar Association/Navigant, October 28, 2015

"Right to Photograph & Record: On the Ground and in the Air," The National Press Club, October 20, 2015

"Source Protection in the Digital Age," World News Media Congress, June 1-3, 2015

"Legal Updates on the Use of sUAS: Addressing Privacy, Safety and Regulatory Issues," Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's Unmanned Systems 2015, May 4, 2015

"Breaking Down Walls: The Fight for Open Government, Dismantling the Wall: FOIA Challenges and Opportunities on the Federal Level," University of Florida College of Journalism & Communications Program, March 27, 2015

"National Security and Justice for Journalists in Latin America," MLRC's Legal Issues Concerning Hispanic and Latin American Media 2015, March 9, 2015

"The 40th Anniversary of Cox Broadcasting v. Cohn: New Challenges from the Right-to-BeForgotten?" ABA Forum on Communications Law 20th Annual Conference, February 5-7, 2015

"Drone Newsgathering and the Law," Newspaper Association Managers Legislative Conference, Arlington, Va., December 8, 2014

"The Media Lawyer of the Future," 2014 Media Law Conference, September 17-19, 2014

"Eyes in the Skies: Drone Newsgathering & The Law," The National Press Club, July 23, 2014

"Law Clinic for J-School Editors & Teachers," Journalism Interactive 2014: The Conference on Journalism Education & Digital Media, April 4-5, 2014

"Double Exposure Panel," NPC's Freedom of the Press and Young Members Committees, October 10, 2013

"Whistleblowers, Reporter Surveillance and the First Amendment," KU Law's American Constitution Society Event. September 17, 2013

"Legal Issues Arising from Social Media," Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications, August 7, 2013

"The Reverend, His Mother, and Their Outhouse," ABA Forum on Communications Law Annual Conference, February 7-9, 2013

"Branzburg v. Hayes at 40: The Evolution of the Journalist's Privilege," Center for International Media Law & Policy Studies, Chicago, IL, October 28, 2012

"New York Times v. United States: Pentagon Papers Case 40 Years After," Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications Annual Conference, September 12, 2011

"Judge-Journalist-Lawyer Role Reversal: 'The Case of the Nylon Nightstalker'," Modem Media and the Courts, Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Courts & Media, Washington, D.C. August 10, 2011

"Wikileaks, National Security and Free Speech," American Bar Association Annual Meeting, Toronto, Canada, August 6, 2011

"WikiLeaks and Journalists: Strange Bedfellows or Wedded Bliss?" National Association of Broadcasters Convention, April 10, 2011

"Anonymous Speech and the Internet," Bureau of National Affairs "Thought Leadership" Video Series, March 28, 2011

"Lights, Camera, Lawsuit! Season 9," 2011 NATPE Market and Conference, January 24, 2011

"Legal Look 2010," Creating Your Digital Toolbox, April 12, 2010

"Libel Tourism/Libel Terrorism: Publishers' First Amendment Rights in the International Market," Software & Information Industry Association Conference, October 29, 2009

"Newsgathering Challenges," MLRC London Conference, October 1-2, 2009

"When Your Business Is Everybody's Else's Business!" American Society of Access Professionals 2008 Annual Symposium and Training Conference, December 3, 2008

"Legal Issues vs. Pitfalls in the Digital Age," October 25, 2008

"2008-New Legal Visions for the Evolving Media World," NAAINAB/MLRC Media Law Conference September 17, 2008

"Emerging Issues in Prior Restraints and Commercial Injunctions on Both Sides of the Atlantic," ABA-CLE, June 5, 2008

ABA-CLE Teleconference: Free Expression and the Roberts Court, October 16, 2007

University of Florida (J.D., with honors)

University of Florida (B.S., Journalism, with high honors)

District of Columbia



U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland

U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

U.S. Court of Federal Claims

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida

U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

U.S. Supreme Court