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Friday, June 2, 2006

Score one for the bloggers

Bloggers cannot be hit with libel suits on the basis of anonymous postings on their Web sites because federal law grants them immunity by explicitly stating that they cannot be treated as the "publisher" of such comments, a federal judge has ruled.

Read the whole thing here or here.

Comments (12)

Does this mean a blogger can just post their libelous stuff in their own comments as anonymous?

Seems to me that it's just like talk radio. I don't have a source on this, but I'm pretty sure there was a court case that ruled that a radio station isn't liable for what their callers say on the air.

Yeah, I know - no details, no cite - I'd suck at law school.

Wow. I do love this comment from the guy who got sued...

"The judge's decision is awesome. It has all the great elements: It quotes hilarious posts from my message board about DiMeo, it mocks and derides DiMeo and his dumbass lawyer, and most importantly it completely and totally reaffirms basically all the tenets of free speech that DiMeo was challenging," Max wrote.

Apparently reading the decision as granting him a permanent license to continue ridiculing DiMeo, Max wrote: "I can't stop laughing imagining him stomping around his cheaply furnished apartment, one eye pointing south, the other one east, pouting and fuming over the fact that he didn't get his way, and now the mockery will never stop. It must not be very fun to suck so much that you feel like you have to sue people who mock you, because you can't find any other way to make them stop."

You can't make this stuff up.

Wow. I do love this comment from the guy who got sued...
Words that may come back to haunt him. TuckerMax is forgetting about that the US District Court is just the first stop, that there's a little thing called appellate review, and DiMeo says he's appealing. Judges read too, and this attitude of his and the things he says don't help him. Add to that, this is not a "well-settled" area of the law, and it IS NOT like talk radio. Talk show hosts can't undo statements after they are made --they can't unring the bell-- but blogowners do have that ability and they can do it with immediacy. I'm not necessarily predicting that it's going to get reversed, just that it could. And I'm also saying that the guy ought to be a little more circumspect.

Do bloggers have any responsibility to delete/edit/address posts that they KNOW to be false and libelous? For example, if I show up here in the comments and post some shocking (and false) accusation about some public figure, would Jack have an obligation to delete it? Given what we know about Jack, I'm sure that he would delete it, but how does the law view that responsibility?

In a sense, it would be like if someone wrote restroom graffiti in a bar that alleged some well-known person in the community was, say, a pedophile. Wouldn't the bar have an obligation to remove that graffiti once it came to their attention? I mean, yes, they didn't write it, but you could argue that by not removing it they are endorsing its content.


The host can invite comment by the offended person, to set the record straight; and can do so by doing absolutely nothing other than to keep comments open to such rebuttal.

Then folks can argue about whether it is fact versus an opinion. Words like affair are filled with lots of food for debate. Policy makers like to characterize opinion as fact all day long, for legislative justification purposes, but then flip over and characterize disagreement about their own facts as instead opinion based on the evilness of the critic. It is ping pong. It is sport. It is fun.


Suppose I offer web hosting services at 350 per month, and had a set of 20 clients, and used it to pay for one single server where I also host my own opinion/fact blog site. All my clients get to fully deduct their "business" expense. Am I a PAC? And, therefore obliged, under the threat of criminal penalties, to make my clients names (my donors names) available to the public for inspection? Would it make any difference if it only cost me 250 bucks (and 2 hours for all billing and management) per month to get my own server to handle all the accounts from a server-bank?

I could make a career out of that one, and buy a house and even afford to raise a family, and finally carry a title of respectfully "employed."

Don't worry, my target is The O (i.e., no malice, just illustration.)

The host can invite comment by the offended person, to set the record straight; and can do so by doing absolutely nothing other than to keep comments open to such rebuttal.

Ok, but you must recognize that saying "Mr. City Councilman, you are free to come to my blog and explain to the readers that you are NOT a pedophile" is hardly fair. I guess it would be the blog equivalent of the old "so, have you stopped beating your wife?" chestnut. I mean, if a public official is forced to engage in debate about a falsehood, doesn't that legitimize that falsehood in a certain sense? (Not that it makes it true, but that it makes it a proper topic for conversation.)

Dalzell, in fact, was one of the judges who originally struck down as unconstitutional the real point of the rest of the Communications Decency Act, which was an overbroad restriction on speech, back in 1996. It was the first major pro-speech Internet decision. He pretty much knows the CDA inside and out.

Though this decision is helpful for bloggers, saying they're not "publishers" of the comments, I wonder about the interplay with the recent CA Supreme Court case that said bloggers were journalists. Do their writings include the blog comments that they allow to remain on their website?

The California court did NOT say that bloggers were journalists. Rather, the CA court said that when bloggers engage in the practice of journalism, they're protected by CA's shield law.

In short, journalism is a newsgathering activity and it doesn't matter whether you're putting it on paper, on TV, on the radio, or on a blog.

As I read it, the CA case doesn't say the shield law applies to all bloggers. It just says that the shield law applies to all journalists -- including the ones that are also bloggers.

As for DaveJ's question: Do bloggers have any responsibility to delete/edit/address posts that they KNOW to be false and libelous?

No. That's precisely what is at issue in this case. Prior to the CDA's passage, any effort to edit anything left you open to liability for everything.

Here's the relevant chunk from Law.com:

"Absent federal statutory protection, interactive computer services would essentially have two choices: (1) employ an army of highly trained monitors to patrol (in real time) each chatroom, message board, and blog to screen any message that one could label defamatory, or (2) simply avoid such a massive headache and shut down these fora," Dalzell wrote.

"Either option would profoundly chill Internet speech," Dalzell said.

Before the CDA was passed, Dalzell noted, courts had held that interactive service providers that removed offensive material from their sites risked liability.

Oops - all three of the last three paragraphs above are quoted from Law.com; not my words.

And disclaimer: I'm no lawyer, and I don't play one on TV. Get legal advice.

So, the Oregonian reports that local "citizen heavyweights" made a false and material misrepresentation to City Council to obtain millions of city, state or federal dollars for a pet project.

Lack of City Council action to recoup these taxpayer funds obtained on the basis of a lie, causes City Council to be thought complicit in defrauding the public.

Is labelling the Portland City Council irresponsible stewards of public funds on a blog considered a false and malicious publication?


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Score one for the bloggers:

» Federal court: blogs not liable for their commenter's libel from Politics and Technology
There's a hilarious case in Philadelphia that's managed to generate some important case law on blogs. First, the backstory: Tucker Max runs a blog chronicling big parties, etc. Anthony DiMeo runs a party-planning business. DiMeo allegedly organized a N... [Read More]

» One Decade Later, Dalzell Protects Online Speech Again from FURIOUS nads!
Jack tips people to a report of a court ruling in which Judge Stewart Dalzell writes: "Bloggers cannot be hit with libel suits on the b... [Read More]

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