Before you think about suing a blogger…

….you might want to read this:

Libel in the Blogosphere: Some Preliminary Thoughts by Glenn Reynolds. It’s a free download. Only 14 pages long.

(Cross-posted from my other blog, Nonprofit Update.)

Although the paper was written in 2006, it is remarkably current.

Full disclosure time. Yes, I have a biased and vested interest in the idea of not suing bloggers. Take my comment with whatever size grain of salt you wish.

The biggest issue to consider is the pushback you may receive from the rest of the blogosphere if you even threaten a blogger.

A few minor points are that most bloggers don’t have enough of a deep pocket to make litigation worthwhile and you can probably get a near instantaneous correction with a polite request.

Back to the major issue.

For the first step in that process, check out my post On buying pixels by the terabyte.

First example

For the next step, check out Today’s illustration of why it’s such a bad idea to pick a fight with someone who buys pixels by the terabyte.

The Junior Deputy Accountant story illustrates the idea described by Prof. Reynolds. The nasty threat of litigation against JDA succeeded in getting an offensive post from three years ago removed. The pushback is two new articles citing multiple sources to show the original claims were valid. Oops. Articles also point out the California bar has never heard of the self-proclaimed attorney who sent the e-mail. Oops again.

Oh, and the two new posts rank on the first page of search results when you google the business who is complaining about the three-year old coverage. Triple oops.

Second example

If you want an example of how the blogosphere can pound someone who is considered to be seriously out of line, check out the Cooks Source story from 2010.  I discussed that here, here, here, and here.

Third example

Check out one particular academic publisher. The company sued a librarian blogger and his university for a critical comment. It drew widespread scorn in the blogosphere and academic community. I’m guessing that discussion has harmed their reputation.

For example, I’m now aware that some academicians are of the opinion that this particular publisher generally has products that are low quality in the academic world. I read one comment that said the company actually does have some material that is worthwhile. That is not the kind of comment you’d like to see from someone coming to your defense.

Google their name and lots of results call attention to them hounding a librarian. See this article if you want to do so research on your own. There are two lawsuits involved. Published reports are in conflict whether the press has dropped both or left the suit against the librarian individually in place. Looks like they have left one of the suits in place.

Look at the downside of this litigation.

Their lawsuit about an offensive post will permanently have visibility on the ‘net that is a huge multiple of the visibility of the allegedly offensive post. Just as a wild guess, increasing the visibility of criticism was not the objective of the press and their attorneys. Extending the discussion on the quality of their backlist to a broader audience isn’t what they had in mind. Just as another guess, today there are probably a few profs looking for a place to publish their book that have crossed this outfit off the list of presses they plan to call.

All in all, that’s probably not quite the impact on their brand they were looking for.

Final comments

(Oh, did you notice I have used a trademarked name twice? I did so without using that ™ symbol thingie. Did so for five reasons. First, I am promoting their services and brand instead of misappropriating their name. Second, the common usage on the ‘net is to use their name as a verb.  Third, I could and would change this post within minutes of receiving any communication from the company indicating they disapproved. Fourth, I’m too poor for them to sue. Fifth, the company would not want the publicity of them picking on a little ol’ blogger for promoting the use of their product. The first two reasons are legal defenses. The last three are practical reasons not to bother.)

The law article outlines a number of ways that claims against bloggers will likely be harder to prove that when going against a newspaper. Damages would be less and there are easy mitigating steps for the blogger and person offended.

Like I said, think carefully before you start talking lawsuits about a blog post. At the same time, remember that full disclosure comment early in this post and keep in mind I have a vested interest in people thinking in such a careful manner.

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