Weblogs, Comments, and Law

Weblogs, Comments, and Law (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

IANAL (“I am not a lawyer”), but here are some links I found interesting.

While a newspaper has a responsibility to check the accuracy of letters to the editor, if person A were to start a cafe, and person B walked into the cafe and made statements that the court deemed libelous, it doesn’t seem likely that person A should be held responsible.

If Person A rents a hall, calls a public town meeting and invites people to walk up to a microphone to say whatever they like, and Person B makes statements that a court deems libelous, would person A be legally responsible for any offense committed by person B?

Last year, in Wired, the article Bloggers Gain Libel Protection” described a ruling involving the re-use, in electronic form, of information taken from elsewhere. Thus, if a blogger were to quote an excerpt from someplace else, and the author of that excerpt was charged with libel, then according to this ruling, the blogger would not be responsible. Let the reader beware — the title of the Wired article mentions blogs, but the case actually centered around an e-mail.

I missed it when I blogged the original article, but Jack Balkin quickly put it into perspective:

This does not mean that bloggers are immune from libels they themselves write. It means that they are immune from (for example) libels published in their comments section (if they have one) because these comments are written by other people and the blogger is merely providing a space for them to be published. Congress wanted to treat operators of chatrooms and other interactive computer services differently from letters to the editor columns in a local newspaper.

Balkin also notes that corrections, clarifications, and retractions are part of the weblog culture, in ways that traditional print journalism doesn’t provide.

If that’s so, when blogger A posts an inaccurate statement, visitors to blogger A’s website can publish corrections — by commenting on the post (and thus adding their text to the main text), or perhaps simply by sending an e-mail. The technology and practice of weblogs makes it easy for bloggers to correct their mistakes or give space to opposing views. This built-in series of checks and balances is part of what makes the online media so exciting, from a “power to the people” perspective.