Although this advancement has been quite exceptional but the so called 'freedom of speech' has also created situations where bloggers got sued because of it (mostly due to misuse of it). The fine line between being critical and being defamatory is obscure and has added to the plight of bloggers. As a result, the cases of bloggers getting sued has been on rise since last couple of years.
For past few weeks I have been studying some of the cases where bloggers were sued and came to a conclusion that in most of the cases a blogger can avoid the trauma of getting into the courtroom by following some simple steps. This is what I am going to talk off in today's post.
Take care of following points while blogging to avoid getting sued-
1) Don't write defamatory posts-
While as a human being every blogger has right to criticise a person or a company ,criticism based on false facts is something you should refrain from doing. Furthermore, if you are criticising someone and some company time and again on your blog, you are inviting a problem.
In 2007, a blogger named Joe Albero was sued because he made fun of Salisbury police chief time and again in his blog ,Salisbury news blog. Police chief, Allen Webster sued him because he repeatedly made fun of him sometimes calling him "Chief Jack and coke". (Source)
Take another example, in July 2008, one of the blogger from Malaysia, Raja Petra was sued by two army officials when he declared the officials to be involved in murder of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu.The blogger made this statement without backing his statement with citations and proofs from reliable sources and did it repeatedly on his blog. He was charged RM 1 million in damages. (source)
In both these cases bloggers were sued because they criticised someone and the statements were based on either false facts or without citations and proofs from reliable sources.Furthermore, they did it repeatedly on their blog.
So, to not get litigated for defamation you need to-
- Criticise someone only when you have solid backings in the form of solid citations, quotes or proofs from authority sources.
- Refrain from criticising someone repeatedly on your blog.
- Refrain from making false statements on your blog.
While researching the topic last week, I found copyright infringement to be second most common cause of getting sued.
The hottest example of this would be perezhilton.com. The author was sued by a Los Angeles based photo agency company, X17 Inc. for illegally using some of the photographs on the blog. The company charged the blog author, Mario Lavandeira with accusations of using 51 images without permission , payment or credit. (Source)
Another example, Britney spears' label record sued a Los Angeles based popular gossip blogger for illegally posting tracks from her album even before it was released. The company demanded unspecified damages plus legal cost for this copyright infringement. (Source)
The lessons to take from these two cases are-
- Read the copyright policies before using any rich media on your blog.
- Don't indulge yourself in plagiarism.
- Take permission of copyright holder before using something in your blog.
While it is OK to break news of your niche, it is not good to disclose secrets of either an individual's personal life or a company's policies or product secrets.
There was a case when the computer giant company, Apple charged an owner of blog to divulge secrets of the products even before the products were officially launched. Although the company and blogger agreed upon a settlement after 2 years but the mental trauma that the blogger would have suffered during these two years can be imagined. ( Source)
Although divulging someone's secret can give you overnight popularity but it would be nice to not indulge in such things to avoid future problems.
Take a close look at the comments appearing on your blog-
Once the famous blogger, Aaron Wall of SeoBook.com was sued for the comments that appeared in his blog. One of the Las Vegas based company, trafficpower.com charged Aaron Wall because some of the comments submitted by readers were defamatory for the company.
As a blog owner you are responsible for the things that appear on your blog (including comments). So, to avoid getting sued for comments appearing on your blog you should-
Some visitors to Mr. Wall's blog had posted comments complaining about what they said were unprofessional business practices by Traffic-Power.com, while others said they didn't think the tools sold by Traffic-Power.com were effective in boosting search-engine rankings.
- Moderate all the comments that are inappropriate or possibly defamatory and harsh.
- Disallow anonymous comments on your blog.
- Make a comment policy for your blog stating the types of comment that are allowed or not allowed on your blog.
There has been cases where bloggers were sued and tried for writing anti-government posts. While it is allowed to criticise government policies in most of the countries, it can't be said for all countries of the world. If writing against government policies is not allowed in your country , you should not write about it to avoid getting into a problem.Please make a note that the freedom of speech I talked about earlier is not followed in all countries of the world.
Although there has been situations when bloggers has been sued for quite absurd and obscure reasons but by following the points I discussed above you can avoid running into a problem in most circumstances.