If you blog, and these days, tons of people do, have you thought about what might happen if someone takes umbrage at something you post?
Spouting forth on blogs about people, businesses, or organizations has practically become a new sport. Snarky posts featuring those we dislike, had sex with, or who have wronged us seems like a right of free speech, but bloggers can be made to pay damages if they cross the line.
Libel is notoriously difficult to prove, though, and case law regarding Internet-related lawsuits is still newly developing.
Either way, learn from the experience of the five defendants listed below, and be smart about posting online.
Ronson v. Sunset Photo and News LLC
In July of 2007, DJ Samantha Ronson filed a libel lawsuit against celebritybaby.com blogger Jill Ishkanian and perezhilton.com blogger Mario Lavandeira for posting that she was the owner—and planter—of cocaine found in actress Lindsey Lohan’s car after an accident. Unfortunately, the suit did not end entirely well for Ronson. Though Ishkanian settled for an undisclosed amount, the case against Lavandeira was dismissed by the judge. Not only that, but the court ordered Ronson to pay Lavandiera’s legal fees, a sum of nearly $84,000, and Ronson’s own attorneys sued her for their unpaid fees—$99,000 worth.
Wald v. Ford
“Powerblogger” Luke Ford was sued in May 2005 by Hollywood producer, manager, and Helen Reddy ex, Jeff Ward, for defamation after Ford posted about Ward several times on his porn industry blog, lukeford.net. Ford ignored the suit and, in October of 2005, was held in default. Forced to file a motion to set aside the default judgment, Ford eventually settled with Ward for an undisclosed amount, and the case was dismissed in 2006.
Johnson v. Tucker Max
Former Miss Vermont and Miss U.S.A., Katy Johnson, sued sexual-escapade-blogger, Tucker Max, in 2003 for publishing the sordid details of his sexual encounters with her. How awkward, given that, as Miss Vermont, Johnson’s platform promoted sexual abstinence. A Florida state judge issued a controversial temporary injunction forcing Tucker Max to remove all references to Johnson from his website. Later, the injunction was lifted and the case was moved to federal court, but the ACLU got involved on Max’s behalf, claiming freedom of speech. Johnson dropped the suit.
Banks v. Milium
This first libel case against a blogger to result in a liability verdict involved a 2006 suit against Georgia political blogger David Milium who posted several stories on aboutforsyth.com alleging that attorney Rafe Banks III was involved in drug deliveries between dealers and a since-deceased judge. The case went to trial, and the jury found Milium guilty of defamation. Though Banks was looking for $400,000 to $2 million in damages, he was only awarded $50,000. Milium appealed, but the verdict was upheld.
U.S. v. Clark
In this unusual 2005 case, the U.S. Army found Arizona National Guardsman Leonard Clark guilty of publishing “classified” information on his now-inactive blog. The problem was apparently with the posting of recorded phone calls between Clark and his friends, wherein Clark criticized the war in Iraq while he served there. Clark was demoted and fined, and the U.S. military now requires all enlisted personnel to register personal websites and blogs.