Defamation Law Applies to Blogs Too

Bloggers can be sued for defamation, notes Lexblog, picking on a Washington Times article.

Apparently a Florida jury awarded a woman $11.3 million in damages in a defamation law suit where another woman posted online messages referring to her as a 'crook,' a 'con artist' and a 'fraud,' among other things.

Reports Lexblog: "According to the complaint, the women had a falling out after the plaintiff hired the defendant's company in removing the plaintiff's twin sons from a disciplinary school in Costa Rica where her ex-husband had enrolled them without her approval....Michael J. Songer, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a partner at D.C. law firm Crowell & Moring believes their may be an impact on blog publishers. This case sends a signal that if you were going to write blog entries, that you need to, like any other journalist, be aware of what you write. It could have a chilling effect when people have to sit down and worry about losing their house."

It makes sense that defamation rules would apply across the board whether the medium is paper or electronic.

Lexblog advises: "You can reduce the chance of being sued dramatically by using a little common sense. One, do not accuse people of crimes, it's defamation per se. Two, make a point of rendering only your opinion, as opposed to making statements of fact. Generally, people are entitled to their own opinion."

Indeed, statements of opinion are not defamatory, by definition. But merely adding "in my opinion" does not convert a statement of act into an opinion. The Washington Times article makes the point that bloggers should educate themselves regarding applicable legal rules to avoid potential liabilities.

Our law firm has represented clients in the medical field seeking to create weblogs dispensing medical advice.

The same principle applies, that legal rules can apply across the board to electronic as well as paper media -- that is, liability risks are the same whether the physician or clinic is offering health advice via a weblog or a paper brochure. Caution is urged against excessive promises, claims, or guarantees; and clinicians and institutions are advised to avoid making any kind of statement that could be construed as false and misleading or otherwise deceptive. The above--successful--lawsuit against a blogger suggests that the medium is neither novel or beyond the reach of the usual liabilities associated with print media.

Slashdot reported today of a lawsuit by a high school principal against students who set up My Space page containing false allegations about the principal, and noted a list of "more than 50 cases now in the courts nationwide, in which bloggers have been sued for libel and related claims."