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Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Headline Screws

Mark Glaser has an article in today's Online Journalism Review, "Libel Ruling Provides Protection for Forums, Not Individual Bloggers:" "Putting a word such as 'Weblog,' 'blog' or 'blogger' into your news story's headline seems to do strange things to people. First, every Weblog known to humanity has to link to your story...."

In addition to succumbing to the inexorable link compulsion Mark notes, I mention it because the article assesses headlines relating to the Ninth Circuit's recent Batzel decision and finds them to have been a little hasty and overzealous in suggesting the case might afford blanket libel protection for bloggers: "What really happened in this ruling is much more complex than that and only protects third-party content that's being passed along to an e-mail listserv, a forum or perhaps a Weblog's comments section. When a blogger starts making original commentary, he/she is liable for these comments."

Mark's right on when he points out that bloggers—and anyone passing along third party comments—who care about accuracy and credibility would do well to take a page from the "real" journalists: "In the end, the real onus is on [defendant] Cremers and the individual publisher/writer/editor. Under this ruling, the publisher would be protected from libel for reprinting e-mails intended for publication—even if the content is libelous. But that publisher would be setting a poor example for online journalists by not making the most basic checks of the material to make sure they're not injuring someone by disseminating the story." I assume Mark would include in those basic checks affording the subject the opportunity to address and respond to the assertion. According to the Batzel opinion, Ellen Batzel did not learn of the allegation that she owned looted art until several months after the posting.

(Of course it's always fun to tweak IBM. The courts just might not be there for you whenever Big (B)Lou comes a knockin'.)

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