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Don Burleson Blog 







Web publishing is nothing new



I’ve been reading some interesting commentary about how “blogs” are a new form of publishing, and frankly, I don’t get it.  For reasons that escape me, many people think that just because blogs have allowed people everywhere to become publishers that the laws for publishing don’t apply anymore.  One fellow that I greatly respect has an overview of this publisher responsibility, but it seems that they are still struggling that blogging is somehow different.  I don’t get it.  What am I missing here?

There are also serious exposures for companies that don't have an Employer anti-blogging policy.  Publishing is publishing, and the decision of the publisher to offer their work electronically is simple a choice of media.  I really don’t understand why Harvard Law has conferences titled “BLOGGING, JOURNALISM & CREDIBILITY” and why there is even any question about whether people are responsible for their own words. 

  • It’s nothing new – There is not any question that blogging is publishing, and even the act of hyperlinking is covered by centuries-old precedents.  For example, the courts used xx to xx that attracting attention to a libel is republishing the libel.  The article "Defamation via the Internet", notes precedents dating back for centuries:

"Perhaps the closest authority is the nineteenth century English case, Hird v Wood.13  In that case, it was held that evidence that a person sat by a defamatory placard beside a roadway, and pointed to it whenever others passed, was sufficient to constitute publication of defamatory material on the placard."

  • It’s not circulation - Some blogs publish their statistics and many blogs have readerships that rival major newspapers.  As libel, defamation and “false light” laws (presenting someone in a false light in the public eye) become clarified by case law, it’s clear that the same standard for damages (the number of people to read the libel) will be applied to blogs.

  • Ignorance is no defense – It doesn’t matter if old Aunt Sara never attended a journalism class.  If she published juicy gossip without checking the facts, she is wholly responsible.

  • You are responsible for what you publish - Blog comments are very dangerous because they have been ruled as akin to “Letters to the Editor” and anyone who publishes the anonymous contributions of others has the exact same fact-checking responsibilities as any other publisher. 

It’s just the paper, silly

Fortunately, it is possible to teach people about the laws without breaking the bank, especially in jurisdictions that require the libeler to pay the court costs.  The internet has become the world’s largest databases, and with “glue” like Google to tie it together, it’s time to start enforcing the rules.  I believe that this should include non-anonymity (it can cost $500 to get a subpoena to identify an anonymous person), verification of credibility by requiring authors to publish a factual resume and, of course, vigorous enforcement of the existing laws.




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