Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Soliciting bullying

Ministry of Truth has a very long and detailed post concerning the current state of British libel laws, as they relate to bloggers, and what changes we should be pushing for. I recommend reading it in full—long though it is.

However, Unity also points to another post about corporate bullying, as related by Richard Brunton. Do read the whole thing, but it mainly deals with the problems as relating to comments made on blogs.
Currently US Law protects site owners from liability from the comments made on their site, of course they have to police them to a certain degree, but the law is with them. However there is no such law in the UK.

More interestingly the very fact that I have shown good will to the head of the company by making a vast amount of deletions and edits shows that I have changed from a "common carrier" of information to a "publisher", and this increases my legal liability for the comments.

Actually, going by the letter of the law, my liability is increased by removing comments from my site that are recognised as any type of SPAM. I would have been better to leave all the illegal or offensive SPAM comments all across my site.

Another consideration is the whole subject of online reviews. Does this mean that sites such as Amazon or iTunes are liable for the comments made on their site about products? Could I sue Amazon if someone said something negative about my book? Could I force the film site IMDB to remove all their negative comments about my film and leave a hugely positive and false view for all to see?

While these events were ongoing there was much discussion about a set of blogging guidelines being created, yet I think this isn't addressing the real issue. The problem does not lie with bloggers as such, I feel it lies with the law not being clear about the separation of liability between those making the comments and those hosting the site on which the comments are made.

This is a definite problem. For instance, the one time that I have been threatened with legal action was over the comments on a post that was not even written by me, but by my colleague Dr De'Ath!

We seem to be coming to that inevitable point where the power of blogs has grown to an extent that we are now being noticed. Whilst advantageous in terms of advancing our various opinions, we are also coming under the scrutiny of the law. Expect these kinds of cases to pop up with increasing regularity.

Perhaps we should consider a bloggers' fighting fund; there are a huge number of us. We could, for instance, pay some small renumeration every month, or even a one-off payment, and swiftly build up a pretty decent bank balance. Some kind of bloggers union could run the fund and decide whether a case could be worth fighting. Just an idea...


Alan Douglas said...

If a newspaper is sued for libel, surely there is no option of suing the individual newsagent who sells that paper ?

The same thing should apply to blog hosts, who are in the same position to the individual newsagent.

Alan Douglas

Richard Brunton said...

My example was Amazon or iTunes, because I was bullied by a Solicitor representing a company who I had reviewed on my site and then received many comments which were negative about the company.

So they went after me, they even demanded the contact details of all those who commented!

If you compare what I did on my blog to an Amazon review allowing anyone to comment, it is exactly the same.

The reason they don't get attacked by solicitors all the time is that they have the funds to defend themselves.

I think it'll take more than a fund though, it needs proper legal recognition.