Archive for September, 2012

10 steps bloggers should take to avoid getting sued

September 21, 2012

Being sued over blog posts is bad, and being threatened with legal action can be just as bad.  Saturday morning, at the 2012 Minnesota Blogger Conference, I am presenting on …

10 steps bloggers should take to avoid getting sued

1. Tell the truth

Libel is a claim that a communicator has harmed someone’s reputation by publishing something false.  So truth is the ultimate defense to a libel suit.   A blog post that says horrible things about someone is not libelous if it is true.

2.  Report for jury duty

Sometimes even false posts are legally protected.  That’s because a jury ultimately decides whether the blogger did “what a reasonable blogger would do” under the circumstances.

3.  Focus on the famous

Politicians, celebrities, and other public figures must prove “actual malice” to win a libel suit.  So if you stick to writing about famous people, the risk of legal liability decreases.

4.  Act like the AARP era

Most of a blogger’s legal defenses were enacted with the Mainstream Media in mind.  So emulate the “AARP” generation by Avoiding Anonymous Sources, Attributing Information, Retracting When Necessary, and Publishing Regularly.

5.  Know when truth doesn’t matter

Bloggers do risk liability for publishing true information if doing so is an invasion of privacy.  So don’t publish Social Security numbers or bank-account information, and tread carefully with racy pictures.

6.  Stay local

Most laws governing bloggers are state laws, enforced separately and differently in each state.  So posting about people outside Minnesota increases the chance, complexity, and cost of litigation.

7.  Keep SLAPP in the face

Minnesota is among states with laws that protect against “SLAPP” lawsuits, which are Strategic Lawsuits filed to prevent Public Participation.  The SLAPP laws provide extra protection to bloggers who write about public issues

8.  Picture a troll

“Copyright trolls” patrol the internet, looking for material used without the owner’s permission.  Bloggers are easy prey.   Know where your pictures come from, and get permission to publish if necessary.

9.  Act in moderation

Some believe that bloggers can avoid legal liability by not moderating comments.  I disagree.  Moderate your comments and remove the dicey ones.

10.  Blog as a matter of policy

Read your business and homeowners’ insurance policies for whether you’re covered if you’re sued.  Consider purchasing a separate policy for bloggers.

Don’t plan to sue your computer consultant

September 13, 2012

If a computer consultant messes up your website, can you sue him or her?  It will be difficult to do so in Minnesota, it appears.

In a case that hasn’t gotten much attention, a federal judge in Minnesota ruled this month that state law does not provide a cause of action for computer-consultant “malpractice.”  The judge’s reasoning was that computer consultants are not “professionals” on par with lawyers, doctors, and others who have a “heightened standard of care” and therefore can get sued for malpractice.

The case involved a Michigan law firm that hired Thompson-Reuters’ Minnesota-based West Publishing arm to develop and design a website.  Something went wrong, and hundreds of emails did not end up getting forwarded.  The law firm claimed that negligence caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business.

But Judge John Tunheim ruled that even if that was true, Minnesota—like Wisconsin and a few others states—did not provide a cause of action for computer-consultant “malpractice.”

I am not sure I agree with such rulings.  People hire web designers and other computer consultants because they do not know how to work the web themselves.  Such “consultants” do, in fact, have specialized knowledge, and arguably should be held to heightened standards.  Stay tuned as the law evolves on this one …

Big Minnesota win for big record companies

September 13, 2012

Record companies spun a big win this week in a case involving the Brainerd, Minn. woman who allegedly downloaded and shared a couple dozen copyrighted songs.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was not unconstitutional to impose a $220,000 penalty on Jammie Thomas-Rasset because the damages were not “so severe and oppressive as to be wholly disproportioned to the offense and obviously unreasonable.”  By doing so, the appeals court reversed the trial judge’s reduction of the award to $54,000.

For support, the Eighth Circuit cited the 1984 landmark case of Sony v. University City Studios, where the United States Supreme Court cleared the way for homeowners to use videocassette recorders to record shows off TV.  The Eighth Circuit then explained:

With the rapid advancement of technology, copyright infringement through online file-sharing has become a serious problem in the recording industry. Evidence at trial showed that revenues across the industry decreased by fifty percent between 1999 and 2006, a decline that the record companies attributed to piracy. This decline in revenue caused a corresponding drop in industry jobs and a reduction in the number of artists represented and albums released.

Thomas-Rasset’s lawyers have vowed a Supreme Court appeal, and I can’t blame them–even though copyright infrinigement is a big deal.

Lost in such cases, though, is a painful truth:  While the record companies can come away big winners, the creative artists who frequently have to surrender their copyrights are the ones who get left behind.