Monday, June 01, 2009

Bloggers Are Publishers

A blogger has been jailed in a defamation suit in Houston, Texas. It reminds me of The Right of Reply issue. An excerpt from the article:

A real estate agent in Houston who blogged about Anna Nicole Smith was jailed for contempt last week in a defamation case brought by the late Playboy model's mother.

Legal experts said bloggers are increasingly the targets of such litigation, which are testing the bounds of free speech.

Lyndal Harrington, who is accused of helping to spread falsehoods that Virgie Arthur married her stepbrother and abused Smith as a child, spent four nights in jail after she failed to comply with a court order to turn over her computer.

Like many bloggers, Harrington doesn't consider herself a publisher and did not realize she could be held liable for her posts.

Lawsuits against bloggers in the United States have been doubling every year since 2004 with $15 million in judgments so far against them, according to Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association.

"A lot of bloggers think of themselves as individuals or maybe writers but in the courts, they are considered a publisher," Cox said.

"A lot of these cases could have been avoided if things had been worded just a little differently or if they had double sourced their information," Cox said.

Moreover, the technology exists to find anonymous bloggers.

"People can find you," said Cox at the Media Blogger Association, which this year began offering its members legal expenses insurance for an annual fee of $540 for $100,000 of coverage.

The majority of cases against bloggers are for defamation but they are also frequently sued for copyright infringement and invasion of privacy.

"There's this Wild West mentality where people think they can do anything on the Web and not be held liable," said Bayard.

While state laws vary on what constitutes defamation and who qualifies as a journalist and thus who can protect sources, Bayard said, judges have consistently applied the same standards to blogs as they would any other medium of expression.

"Defamation is defamation no matter whether it is written on paper or on a blog," he said.

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