posted on Jun, 1 2009 @ 04:46 PM
A Houston realtor has been found in contempt and sentenced to jail in an ongoing defamation lawsuit brought against her and three other defendants
allegedly engaged in a conspiracy to defame Anna Nicole Smith'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.
The blogger says she is shocked that she is being sued for comments posted on someone else's blog to pass the time. Like many bloggers, she 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 dollars 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.
His organization has created an on-line course with Harvard Law School, City of New York School of Journalism and News University at the Poynter
Institute at Northwestern University to educate bloggers about their legal rights and responsibilities.
"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.
Sounds like an error all too frequently encountered here, no? How many posts have no basis except "I think?"
In addition to defamation, bloggers are getting nailed for copyright infringement and invasion of privacy.
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 Harvard professor Wayne 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.
So, with Google alerts and rss feeds, people can keep up with what is being said about them, even if they are not in the subject forum.
With attorneys and judges looking over our shoulders, who needs mods?
Be careful what you say.