The price of being an arsehole

It may be tempting to think that as a blogger you are all powerful if you simply hide behind a pair of pants or some other artfully constructed conceit. You are not.

No matter how gratifying it must feel to know you are the talk of the BBC and the corridors of Cardiff Bay, getting it wrong as a blogger could be a costly business. In a landmark case in the USA a blogger had to cough up $50,000.

At the moment, the UK courts are gagging to get stuck into their first major blogging case. Bitch blogs beware: I wouldn't want to be the first.

In legal terms, blogs are as vulnerable as any other form of media, and cases would most likely be heard on grounds of defamation or malicious falsehood. But while the mainstream press enjoys certain privileges which mostly ensure its protection, bloggers would be hung out to dry. A proper journalist is usually on firm ground if he can plead he has practiced 'responsible journalism' - certain checks and balances that may save his skin. Bitch blogs, by their very nature, could never plead this defence.

Previously, British bloggers have cockily assumed immunity on the basis that most blogs are hosted in the United States. Well, that makes sod all difference I'm afraid. According to UK law, defamation occurs where the material is read, not where it is published. Further, as a recent Yahoo! user found to the tune of £17,200, foreign companies now seem willing to co-operate with local law to tackle the bigots who cower in the many dark deluded corners of the information superhighway.

It's simply a matter of time before a shit-slinging fact-fabricating blogger is reeled into court. And when it happens, it won't be with a fishing rod but with an industrial-sized trawler. Anyone with a hyperlink to the offending blog or even those who have simply allowed the offending blogger to comment on their own sites could be implicated. In internet terms, that may be considered equivalent to repeating the defamation or falsehood and so they would also be liable.

In the last few months, the Welsh blog has risen in power and influence while standards appear to have gone in the opposite direction. But the bubble will burst. All you need is a prick.

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posted by Blamerbell @ 12:40 am,

13 Comments:

At 3:27 am, Anonymous Insanity Prawn Boy said...

I won't suggest who the prick is, then, as that might get me sued.

 
At 4:26 am, Blogger sanddef said...

The law can't stop people from expressing their oppinions, so unless it targets something very specific it just won't happen.

 
At 6:29 am, Blogger Alwyn ap Huw said...

In the last few months, the Welsh blog has risen in power and influence while standards appear to have gone in the opposite direction. But the bubble will burst. All you need is a prick.

This suggests that somebody on the "Welsh Blog" has crossed the line between bitchy comment and libel. I read most Welsh blogs, but I can't think who the guilty blogger might be (unless it's the person who suggested that you had a Labour bias in your posts - in law that's not libel but valid opinion - even if the opinion is bollocks).

Are you going to tell us or are you going to sue?

 
At 11:05 am, Anonymous Matt Withers said...

I can't help but feel you may be holding up a metaphorical rag to a bull here...

 
At 1:07 pm, Blogger Welsh Spin said...

The question is, does this blogger actually have sufficent assets to make a libel action worthwhile? There is little point in spending several grand (and the rest) on suing someone who is not even going to able to pay the planitiff's costs!

 
At 1:54 pm, Blogger Blamerbell said...

"The law can't stop people from expressing their oppinions, so unless it targets something very specific it just won't happen."

There is an obvious difference between fair comment, defamatory statements and malicious falsehoods. It is the latter two which interest us here.

"Are you going to tell us or are you going to sue?"

The type of person who might sue would be someone with a high profile that could suffer damage to his or her reputation. I don't think I fall into that category:)

"I can't help but feel you may be holding up a metaphorical rag to a bull here..."

Matt Withers! Golly. Can I have your autograph?

"The question is, does this blogger actually have sufficent assets to make a libel action worthwhile?"

Well, if you think back to the Yahoo! case there was £7,200 damages and £10,000 costs. I guess it depends who the blogger is.

 
At 7:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some people will remember how the satirical Welsh language magazine Lol was sued for libel by executives of Agenda Television and others for various unsubstantiated claims.
The damages awarded against the publisher, Eirug Wyn, were enough to bankrupt him I believe - this was back in the 1980s.

 
At 1:37 pm, Blogger sanddef said...

There is an obvious difference between fair comment, defamatory statements and malicious falsehoods. It is the latter two which interest us here.

Ah but it isn't obvious, only on the last point is there something that can be specified. If I were to say that X is a complete and utter Y then I am both making a defamatory statement and expressing an opinion.

 
At 11:11 pm, Anonymous Tom said...

Ah but it isn't obvious, only on the last point is there something that can be specified. If I were to say that X is a complete and utter Y then I am both making a defamatory statement and expressing an opinion.

Legally, you're not making a defamatory statement; mere abuse is not defamatory.

Regarding the liability of someone linking to the defamatory post: they'd have a defence of innocent dissemination, in the same way your local newsagent who sells a defamatory copy of the Sun does.

 
At 11:53 pm, Blogger Blamerbell said...

"Regarding the liability of someone linking to the defamatory post: they'd have a defence of innocent dissemination, in the same way your local newsagent who sells a defamatory copy of the Sun does."

They could make the defence. But we're on new ground here. A link in a sidebar is no newsagent, and whatever you think of the Sun, it's a lot more legally rigid than your average blog.

 
At 2:56 am, Anonymous Tom said...

A link in a sidebar is no newsagent indeed; there's no (direct) profit motive, for a start. But it still doesn't imply endorsement of particular posts. Eady and Gray, the two judges who handle pretty much all libel cases in the UK, are both extremely sensible and careful people, and I'm as close to 100% certain as I can be that a link to a blog wouldn't be taken as a repetition of a libel thereon.

(Incidentally, while it's obviously a good idea for bloggers to be careful, they're only likely to be at risk if they make allegations against relatively unimportant people. Actual famous people won't generally sue a blog, because they know the newspaper coverage of the action will bring much worse publicity. People who sue blogs will be doing it out of personal grievance more than anything else.)

 
At 10:35 am, Blogger Blamerbell said...

I agree with you entirely on the first point, though it doesn't rule out the possibility that if a blogging case were brought to court they wouldn't utter words of warning along those lines.

On the second point, I'm not so sure. 'Actual famous people', as you put it, have in the past taken action against newspapers or broadcasters. So why not blogs? It would surely depend entirely on the nature and scope of the alleged libel, never mind that blogs would appear to have fewer defences than the traditional media were a case actually heard.

 
At 12:23 pm, Blogger sanddef said...

On the second point, I'm not so sure...

Well there's always the very real possibility that the media take up a story out of a blog post...

 

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