If you are a victim of intneret defamation, the very first question that pops into your mind is "aren't my comments protected by the first amendment?" Understanding your legal defenses to a claim of internet defamation is critical. A web slander and libel lawyer can help you understand which legal defense might apply to your situation. The Media Bloggers Association will somtimes participate in the defense of a claim of internet defamation when it violates someone's first amendment right to free speech or otherwise has a chilling effect on free speech or internet participation.
To support the MBA, please check out their website or join here. For more information about how Traverse Legal attorneys can help in internet defamation cases, check out this web site. Interview with Robert Cox, President of Media Bloggers Association.
ANNOUNCER: Today’s program is brought to you by Traverse Legal. A law firm specializing in internet law, domain disputes, and technology company representation. That’s Traverse Legal www.traverselegal.com. Welcome to the Vertio Talk Radio tech spotlight with your host Damien Allen.
DAMIEN ALLEN: Good morning and welcome to Traverse Legal Radio. I’m Damien Allen in the studio and today on the phone in the studio with us we have Mr. Robert Cox the President of the Media Bloggers Association. Good morning Robert and welcome to the program.
ROBERT COX: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
DAMIEN: Please tell us a little bit about the Media Bloggers Association. What is it you do there?
ROBERT: It’s an organization that was formed in 2004 and we primarily do legal defense work on behalf of bloggers and we have a network of attorneys around the country who provide legal support services. In addition to that we provide education and training and we also have a partnership with a media liability insurance company called Axis Insurance.
DAMIEN: The internet has been supposedly the last great bastion of free speech in the ability to go out and spread your thoughts and your thinking and your ideals among the world so that other people can comment on them or whatever. Bloggers occasionally will get on and they’ll type about something that is incensed them or something that is important to them trying to let other people know their opinions and now we’re starting to see lawsuits, defamation, cases of a blogger in sighting a riot. What’s causing this upsweep in everybody up in arms for this?
ROBERT: Well, in 2004 when we started there was about a dozen cases. There were tens of thousands of bloggers and maybe twelve lawsuits that were filed. The number of bloggers has grown exponentially since then and not surprisingly litigation has followed so that the number of cases filed is more than doubled each year since. And the amount of money that’s been involved is getting quite large, tens of millions of dollars in judgments or settlements so far. And what’s driving it is more people blogging and at the same time more tools for other people to monitor what’s being said about them. So, things like Google News Works allow people to monitor anything said about an individual including themselves. So, they are more likely to see defamatory comments or violations of their privacy and therefore bring litigation and then copyright owners also have new tools to look for copyright infringement or alleged copyright infringement and then to use federal law to bring complaints about bloggers if they feel they’re copyrights. So, more bloggers and more tools for people to find bloggers who maybe violating defamation of privacy or copyright laws.
DAMIEN: Now, the Google News, you can actually type in a phrase or a person and anything that is blogged on that person will then show up on this search engine?
ROBERT: Yeah and many public figures are people who are written about now know to have a Google News alert setup for themselves to monitor what’s written about them. And since more people are paying attention they’re more likely to see something they don’t like being written about them.
DAMIEN: Now, is there a difference in the way that defamation or liable is determined in an internet blog as opposed to say the USA Today newspaper?
ROBERT: Well, I mean there is certainly going to be an issue of reasonable person test as to whether or not what’s written would be believed by the average person and so, presumably more people would be willing to believe something in the USA Today then written on a blog. That’s not always necessarily the case. The blog has a significant credibility or could be perceived to be saying something that is true they’ll be held to the same standard as the USA Today. And defamation isn’t one thing. It’s actually, there’s a series of tests that a judge would use in making a determination as to whether something was defamatory and if a blogger meets that test with what they wrote they’re going to find themselves on the hook in a defamation lawsuit.
DAMIEN: And what would some of these levels of determination be?
ROBERT: Well, I mean it has to be something that, in any case, any right, or publisher, or broadcaster of any kind is going to have to be whether or not the person writing it knew it to be untrue and published it and that it somehow cast the person in some sort of negative light. These are some of the basic tests. And so, I mean I will say this, winning a defamation case is very difficult and most lawyers will discourage their clients from pursuing defamation cases, because they can be expensive and they’ll often result in a positive outcome for the litigant. In fact, according to the Media Law Resource Center which tracks this bloggers win in about 96%, 97% of the cases. And so, the cases aren’t often successful, but the cost of defending in a defamation lawsuit can be quite expensive. Typically it costs somewhere around $50,000, even if you win. And if you’re a newspaper like USA Today, you might be willing to tolerate some of that cost, but if you’re making $9.42 a month off your blog and it’s a sideline you’re not likely to want to incur a $50,000 legal bill.
DAMIEN: Indeed. Well, any legal mounting can be daunting in the cost. What are some of the thing people can do to protect themselves from something like this?
ROBERT: Well, the best thing that they can do is educate themselves. Most bloggers think of themselves as writers or just a man or woman standing on their virtual soap box saying whatever they believe. In court they’re going to be treated as publishers. And so, that shift has to occur in the mindset of people who are blogging which is that they are in fact both, they’re a writer and a publisher. And if they’re making video or podcasts they’re going to be broadcasters. So, they have to understand what the laws are that apply to publishers and broadcasters and so we developed a course and I certainly recommend anybody listening to this who’s blogging to take it. It’s free. It was done in conjunction with people at Harvard Law School, the City University of New York Journalism School, and the Poynter Institute which is a journalism think tank in Florida. And it’s on a website called newsu.org, NEWSU.org. And it’s a course on media law for bloggers and other online publishers. And that will teach the blogger the basics of defamation and copyright and privacy. Each course is as fun and interactive as it can be for the topic. There are six case studies within the course and by the time you’re done, takes about an hour or two to finish, you’ll know basically what you need to know. You’ll know enough to ask the right questions.
DAMIEN: And if people are following these rules… well, starting off to say first that the internet when it was first open to the general public was pretty much a lawless landscape. Are there laws being put into effect that will help level the playing field and make a definitive set of rules for this, other than the copyright and broadcast laws and publishing laws?
ROBERT: Well, I would just go back to the basic premise of that question which is that was never the case that the internet was some kind of a wild west. It was a perception that was driven off of things like anonymity, so that it would be difficult to track down maybe who wrote something. But all these laws that we’re talking about, defamation, copyright, privacy, trademark, they’re all on the books and they all apply to everybody. So, whether you’re writing on a blog or in a newspaper or making photocopies and handing them out on the street corner, all those laws have always applied. The perception among bloggers has been somehow that they’re maybe judgment proof or they’re a needle in a haystack or somehow it’s not going to happen to me, that I’m going to get any kind of litigation.
DAMIEN: This allows me to be an invisible digital figure to state what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, or my opinion on something nobody can come back on.
ROBERT: Well, if you’re stating opinion then it’s going to be very difficult for somebody to win a defamation case, because once you’re in the err of opinion you’re not stating facts or stating apparent facts then you’re not really going to be committing liable, but that’s not really the issue for most bloggers. It’s not whether or not they’re doing something illegal or something that is actionable, it’s whether they’re in the best defensible legal posture, then they’ll get litigation, because this is America any knucklehead of a lawyer can file a lawsuit and you don’t want to be right and still be paying tens of thousands of dollars for an attorney to get you out of a lawsuit. You want to not get the lawsuit in the first place. And so, that’s what we focus on. It’s basically the idea that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I’d rather have all bloggers take this free course at News U. You know, it takes an hour or two of their time and learn what they can do to avoid or mitigate potential legal threats related to their blog and if they get a legal threat not respond to it on their own, but get access to someone who can give them some advice how to try ameliorate the situation as best as possible and hopefully get the case to go away. In our experience we’ve been involved in hundreds of legal threats against bloggers and we’ve had less than twenty that have actually proceeded to court, so it is possible to knock these things down or get them to go away. Of course, the best thing to do is to not have the problem in the first place.
DAMIEN: Could you please give the website for the Media Bloggers Association so that people know where to go to get this course?
ROBERT: Our website is www.mediabloggers.org and within our site if you click the join link it’ll explain a lot of information about Media Bloggers Association, but also how to go take the course which is actually over at newsu.org our partner that’s NEWSU.org. And that’s a partnership with Poynter Institute and the Mike Foundation which funded it.
DAMIEN: Now we’ve been speaking about the Media Bloggers Association and the trials and tribulations of people who are blogging these days and the ability of other people to find out what you’re blogging about and decide on whether you’re saying naughty things about them, but another issue that is near and dear to my heart is copyright, because being a musician I know that ASCAP and all the rest of the realty agencies are always trying to get their money. I noticed that there have been quite a few cases with ASCAP or the RIAA trying to go after people for ringtones or for use of music backgrounds in their blogs. Are these cases that are also growing in number?
ROBERT: Well they are, but they don’t typically impact bloggers. The more likely scenario, in fact, what’s been in the news a little bit over the past year or so is efforts by the Associated Press in effect representing all of the newspapers that are members to go after bloggers who they allege are infringing copyright. So, there’s been a number of stories that they’re, in fact we were involved in a pretty high profile case on year ago this month involving a website called Dredge Report down in Florida. And the AP went after them for seven instances of infringement about the headlines and the lead paragraphs of AP stories. That’s much more common. These news organizations, New York Times, Associated Press, and others are using software on this one Attributor which will actually go out and match up their content to what’s being written on the web and look for examples of matches which they can then check out further to see if it’s infringing and then generate letters to the bloggers and the webhosts to get the material taken offline. That’s far more frequent.
DAMIEN: Could you please give the website and contact information one more time for the listening public?
ROBERT: It’s www.mediablogger.org.
DAMIEN: Well thank you very much Robert for joining us today and letting us know what’s going on with the Media Bloggers Association and how bloggers can get information to make sure they keep themselves within the guidelines and keep themselves out of trouble and if they are in trouble where to go to find out how to get out of trouble.
ROBERT: Thanks for having me.
DAMIEN: Yep, thank you very much. You’ve been listening to Traverse Legal Radio. We are out of here for the day. Everyone have a great afternoon.
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