Random Thoughts

I haven't been blogging much lately:  development-wise, things are super busy, and of course, there's a new Hitney in the house (registered users can see picts in the pictures section).  Result: no free time.  But, I did have a bunch of random thoughts...the first one:

I got a kick out of StarForce attempting to sue a blogger for harassment (see this post).  The blogosphere is still figuring out its legal standing, but this letter was fairly amusing.  After knowing a few people who've been involved in lawsuits (including myself -- but fortunately I was on the "good" side -- more on that in another post) I know the mere mention of them isn't fun.  (A great benefit at Microsoft: legal benefits.)

I'm not an attorney, but I don't see how a post, even in a pejorative context, could be considered harassment.  Harassment is a criminal offense in which the target is the victim directly, and I think prosecutors would laugh at the thought of pressing criminal charges in this context.  Defamation, though, is a different story, and that's the area that the blogosphere is still trying to figure out.

What is defamation?  Defamation is written or spoken false statements that negatively affect someone's reputation.  Defamation (generally civil law) can occur in two ways: the first is written (libel) and the second is spoken (slander).  Naturally, on the internet, many bloggers are indeed seeing libel cases thrown their way. 

Slander is generally much more difficult to prove, simply because there's typically no record of the words spoken and the context is subjective.  In either case, though, the statements made must be false, and there generally must be malice or intentional disregard for the truth in statements made.  If there's even a modicum of truth to the statements, a defamation case would be very difficult to prove.   Truth is the best defense in a defamation suit.

Another defense (though not absolute) are statements of opinion.  If it's clear that the message is someone's opinion, and not being communicated as fact, a defamation case is weaker.  Again, it's not absolute, because the "weight" of an opinion varies.  As ExpertLaw.com points out, if an employer calls an employee a pathological liar, amending "... but that's just my opinion" to the statement may not help as the person making the statement can be viewed as an authority or "in the know."

So how can bloggers protect themselves?  The only absolute way is to simply not blog.  Otherwise, there will always be some element of risk.  Realistically, try to back up statements as fact, and quote sources as necessary.  If you received information from credible sources, you may be protected (to some degree) by an innocent dissemination defense.  Last, qualify your opinions expressly -- make sure your readers know when you are expressing opinion versus fact.

Having said all that, this information is just my opinion :) and not meant as legal advice.  For more information, I highly recommend reading the ExpertLaw article -- it's very insightful.
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