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Hypergene MediaBlog » Can a Blogger Be Sued for Libel?
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http://www.hypergene.net/blog/weblog.php?id=P251


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Can a Blogger Be Sued for Libel?

PR blogger Jeremy Pepper interviewed David E. McCraw, Counsel for The New York Times Co., on the potential libel liability for bloggers. There are some interesting insights here:

"There are three interesting set of legal issues for bloggers: Republisher liability, originator liability and protection against subpoenas.”

“...many bloggers think that their blogs fall under the protection of the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling. This isn’t so. If a blogger posts libelous content that is original, it is still libel.

“Do bloggers deserve the same protection as journalists? On one side, it obvious that bloggers are journalists, and on the other side, people are just having private conversations. Bloggers are trying to sit on both sides of the fence - citizen journalists and personal journals. They want the protection of shield law as a journalist, but at the same time not worry about fact checking since it is just a blog."

— via Micro Persuasion

Posted on Feb 15, 2005 | 6:48 am EST

READER COMMENTS


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Great. The lawyers are being unleashed.

But hey, good luck trying to sue thousands of bloggers (read: NY Times readers).

And prepare for the spectacle of blog libel lawsuits: “Your Honor, the whole newsroom was traumatized by the posting on that blog. We no longer feel safe in our own homes, where hate speech can strike from any Web browser anywhere, at any time!”

After “blood libel” comes… “blog libel”.

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

Posted by: A.R.Yngve on Feb 15, 05 | 9:52 am EST

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I don’t understand what is so confusing about this. If you publish information in print form, you are liable for libel.  How is a blog any different?

Posted by: Mike D. on Feb 15, 05 | 1:55 pm EST

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I’m with you on this Mike. The trouble is that many bloggers are not properly educated about such laws. They didn’t get libel issues hammered into their heads like I did at J-school.

Posted by: Shayne on Feb 15, 05 | 4:34 pm EST

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I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t comment on the protection (or lack thereof) for bloggers, but as a media personality I do know we get a favorable amount of leverage in court based on what we do and what we’re exposed to.

As corporate citizens, we’re supposedly more responsible to the ethics of representing our companies well, and can’t be as scathing or critical in writing as a blogger would be.

But I do assume that bloggers wouldn’t be protected as much as a professional journalist, if it came down to it.

Posted by: Jason Salas on Feb 15, 05 | 9:29 pm EST

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Shayne pointed out that “many bloggers are not properly educated about such laws”.

Look: when you start applying traditional legal thinking to electronic media, things get really weird.

Are you familiar with the term “living document”? Suppose someone posts slander of on a blog. You read it, and you sue. However, the webmaster removes the slander after only 30 minutes.

Question: is 30 minutes’ exposure of slander worth suing over? Where do you set the limit? 5 minutes? 1 minute? An hour?

And of course there’s the “satire” thing. Anyone you sue can claim—truthfully or not—that the slander was intended as satire. (If you think this sounds redundant, it has happened that people have cited THE ONION as a news source.)

I can hear America’s lawyers collectively licking their lips (satire! Not slander! Please don’t sue!) at the prospect of libel suits hitting the blogosphere.

But I think this will only serve to alienate lots of people (read:  newspaper readers).

Instead, I’d suggest journalists would try to become bloggers themselves. Join the discussion instead of uttering threats.

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

Posted by: A.R.Yngve on Feb 16, 05 | 6:18 am EST

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Yngve, first, you’re mixing slander and libel. Slander is a spoken form of libel. I could slander you in a speech to three people and you could sue me. But it falls under libel, a term generally reserved for print defamation.

Also, libel laws apply to broadcasters as well, so the temporal nature of the libel is pretty much irrelevant.

(Here’s a quick overview if you’re curious: http://www.spawn.org/marketing/slander.htm)

Rule of thumb: You intentionally print/write/post/broadcast false material injurious to the reputation of somebody, your kiester gets sued. And your kiester deserves it. Lack of education is a lame excuse for malicious intent, regardless of the medium. (Of course, the details and gray areas get tricky ...)

Posted by: Smitty on Feb 21, 05 | 12:18 am EST

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