Bloggers: Lawsuits Won’t Stop Publishers From Blogging
A rash of libel lawsuits filed in the past year against bloggers or so-called “citizen journalists” are changing the mindset that most bloggers essentially are “judgment-proof” because they – unlike traditional media such as newspapers, magazines and television outlets – often are ordinary citizens who don’t have a lot of money, USA Today reported this week.
But with more and more publishers embracing both blogging and citizen journalism for the interactive and engagement opportunities it offers, Folio: Alert asked professional bloggers how they think the lawsuits, if at all, will affect the publishing industry’s blogging efforts.
Paul Conley, PaulConley.blogspot: This won’t have any effect on the use of blogs by magazine publishers. Professionals are offered a number of protections from legal actions — absence of malice, fair use, freedom to comment on public officials, etc. Those protections don’t disappear as we change publishing software.
And I think the law will protect any blogger — whether he’s connected with a mainstream publisher or not — as long as that blogger is involved in protected speech. In other words, a guy who uses his blog to write about what’s happening at the local school board should have the same legal protections as the local newspaper. But the guy who uses his blog to badmouth his girlfriend doesn’t and shouldn’t have those protections.
Rex Hammock, Rexblog.com: I don’t believe bloggers are exempt from the laws of libel and slander. I think media companies and associations and others who are adding features and approaches adapted from blogging need only to apply the principles they practice elsewhere to protect themselves from such lawsuits. Also, I believe that blogging will provide traditional publishers with the means to correct or clarify instantly (anything) questionable or wrong — thus providing them with the means to protect themselves from lawsuits. Also, media companies have insurance that covers their legal defense.
Individual bloggers, on the other hand, don’t understand the nuances of the law and can quickly dig themselves into a hole if they decide to use their blog as a megaphone for slander. Like with anything online or in print, the first rule in protecting oneself from harm or lawsuits is this: Don’t be stupid. The best protection (short of that) is to have a process in place for allowing quick mediation and arbitration for those who feel they’ve been slandered or libeled. Robert Cox, who is mentioned in the article, is doing a great job thinking through this issue and coming up with ways to educate bloggers, lawyers and judges on what the issues are.
Scott Karp, Publishing 2.0: A blog is just a publishing platform, same as words on paper is a publishing platform. If I write something libelous, print it out on a paper, then mail it to 100 people, does that put the newspaper industry at risk because newspapers are also printed on paper? Blogs are just an easy way to post information online. The fact that some people are using blogging software for personal revenge attacks has little bearing on people who use blogs to publish useful information. If a newspaper publishes something libelous, it will be sued. If a person uses blogging software to publish something libelous, they will be sued. Anyone posting to a blog who thinks they are immune from libel laws is as naive as any person who thinks they are immune from any particular law.