Friday, August 17, 2007

Bloggers and libel chill

I've added this video to my sidebar, and I wanted to feature it here too. It's a report from last night's CBC The National, and I think it's a must watch for anyone blogging on politics in Canada, or even commenting on blogs. Among those interviewed, and facing libel lawsuits as a result of their blogging, are Mark Francis of Section 15 and Kate Holloway, provincial Liberal candidate for Trinity-Spadina.

You can learn more at their Libel Web site, get a button for your blog to support their fight and/or make a donation to help them fight the lawsuit. Canada's laws are antiquated when it comes to libel and aren't suitable for the electronic information age. This is an issue that crosses party lines, and should be of concern to bloggers of any stripe.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


s.b. said...

You know, from what I heard last night, these people were guilty of liable. The one art blog said that someone had sold fake or stolen artwork. This was said about a gentleman who makes his living selling art and was a deliberate attempt to defame him and undermine him as an art dealer. It's liable and quite serious liable at that.

It's really easy not to be guilty of liable. You say pretty much anything want that's an opinion about someone as long as you don't factually state that someone did something they may not have, even if they have been charged with it.

Blogs should be about opinions. As soon as you start accusing someone of criminal activity or stating unproven things that undermine how they make their living through criminal allegations, it's liable. They aren't courtrooms or jurours or judges. When they pretend to be, or allow comments to stand that do so, they are in trouble as they should be.

Anyone who keeps it to opinions is fine. Anyone who says, he or she did x,y,or z, especially when its criminal, like its a fact is liable. You can even say allegedly, or I think. Just not be judge and jury.

These bloggers stepped over the line. Its fine for them to be in hot water. The artist guy was even complaining that he was being pressured to apolologize. Um ya, he stated someone had committed criminal activity in order to defame him. That's not the place of blogs. That's the place of police and courts and judges, not bloggers.

It's about time blogs and service providers started to be held responsible for their content. Long past since time.

Same with all online content and comments. GO to the Globe comments on any political article. Inevitably someone will accuse Stephane Dion of being a criminal because of ad scam. The Liberal Party should pursue this agressively. The globe has a responsibility not to publish these comments online. They are liable. It should be taken much more seriously and comments should be much more modedrated and if law suits make that happen, then I'm ok with that. Viscious online attacks of people and troll commentors on blogs have been going on for far too long.

I could also get into the psychological damage to teenagers that is perpetuated on libelous chat sites etc. This abuse is really pervasive and destructive and providers like AOL and google and MSN and whoever else shouldn't be immune from responsiblility. If it were printed on paper the publishers would be responsible.

It's time electronic media including bloggers was held to account for liable.

BlueBerry Pick'n said...

its almost enough to give me the chills of my own.

My opinions are my opinions, my ideas, my ruminations...

Its a media collage, my public personal journal.

wow. that's just disturbing.

we create a media of personal expression, that will be used against us.


BlueBerry Pick'n
can be found @
"Silent Freedom is Freedoms Silenced"

Mark Francis said...

S.b. (Shoshana):

You are sadly mistaken about Canadian libel (not 'liable') law. Opinions are not protected from civil action in any way. There is a defense of 'fair comment', but there are many pitfalls. In Canada, it is possible to express an opinion based upon facts and be guilty of libel because Canadian law recognizes the concept of false opinion, even when honestly held. (!)

For example, when you said

"You know, from what I heard last night, these people were guilty of liable. The one art blog said that someone had sold fake or stolen artwork. This was said about a gentleman who makes his living selling art and was a deliberate attempt to defame him and undermine him as an art dealer. It's liable and quite serious liable at that."

Given that I am _NOT_ guilty of libel, and given that Jeff has the video posted on the same page as your comment, and given that I'm clearly present in the video, I can sue you for libel because I can be identified with your accusation ('...these people were guilty of liable'). Failing to name me directly does not constitute a defense on your part because the video is readily accessible. You're actually likely screwed for a defense as there was not enough information in the video for you to determine whether or not I'm guilty, and despite claiming in the plural, you only discussed the art dealer case, of which I have no involvement. Remember, with libel law in Canada, you are guilty until proven innocent. You have to prove that I am guilty of libel or you lose.

I could also sue Jeff Jedras for hosting your comment and Goggle for hosting Jeff. Progressive bloggers keeps links to this blog, and I can sue them as well. Ditto for Liblogs.

Even more shocking is that I could sue Jeff for what you wrote, but not bother suing you.

I, of course, will not do any of the above. I am quite content with using right-of-reply, and enjoy these types of discussions.

I trust I have made my point.

For the record, libel in Canada can be argued whenever _any_ sort of negative comment is published about a person. The point of the broadcast piece is that libel law is so expansive as to chill content right off the Internet regardless of the merits of a claim.

s.b, you could even sue me for libel over this post, because I've placed you in a poor light. I argue that I've been objective and correct, but that wouldn't stop a lawsuit. If you were rich, you could sue me into bankruptcy, even though I'm right.

The Internet has only gotten this far because libel law has rarely been enforced in Canada on the Internet. If it had been from the start, we wouldn't be blogging and not a single user-generated Web 2.0 application could work in Canada.

Libel law in Canada is very complex. I hope I have opened your eyes a little.

A BCer in Toronto said...

I could also sue Jeff Jedras for hosting your comment and Goggle for hosting Jeff.

I had the same thought reading Shoshana's comment. Since I've given you right of reply though Mark, I'm hoping you'll keep the legal hounds at bay...

JimBobby said...

Good work settin' s.b. straight, Mark. She probbly didn't know she was libellin' you but, as you've shown, she was and if you were a litigious lunatic, you could sue her. People oughtn't be spoutin' legal opinions when they ain't got a clue about the law.


s.b. said...

First of all Mark, everyone knows I can't spell. Second of all You're right I should have said it sounds like liable from what was reported and I appologize. I also stated that all blogs and providers must be more responsible for what they say and allow to be posted. There are much more vicious things out there than what was reported last night, although targeting someone specifically, I think is also different than commenting on an article.

Problem is when bloggers don't say that and don't appologize and categorically state as fact that someone committed a criminal act. Libel, thanks for the spelling hint, isn't criminal. Very different.

I don't think you'd get very far in a libel suit against me. Nor do I think the green party gentleman will get very far in his suit against google et. all., if they attempted to remove the comments. Preventing them in the first place is really not possible for google or blogger, but they should respond to complaints and individual bloggers should be held responsible for pulling comments from their own sites especially if they have been asked to, and may even be required to screen comments before posting them, in future. I know that blogger does take these complaints seriously and will shut down blogs that don't remove libelous comments.

The issue is one of intent and due dilligence. Do I intend to libel you and defame you? Am I dilligent about comments I allow on my blog and remove then if I recieve a complaint.

As far as links go, that's a tougher question. I don't think that will go very far. Honestly even it were a link to a hate site or an articel that was banned by court order, like from the states when a trial is closed in Canada, I don't think it's going to fly. A link isn't the same as publishing something on your site or even reproducing it. I don't think that female blogger has much to worry about if it was just a link.

Honestly, I don't think bloggers have anything to worry about. The big deal is stating that someone comitted a crime, which again libel isn't. Just don't do that.

Canadian courts do tend to be much more reasonable and rational about which suits they allow to proceed. We don't have the same free speech legislation as the US but we do have fairly rational judges most of the time and frivilous law suits really aren't entertained.

I don't think its unreasonable for bloggers to be careful and i don't think unreasonable law suits will be successful.

s.b. said...

You know you could say that I date my sister or other such thing that isn't true and technically it's probably defamation, but it isn't going to go anywhere in court unless I'm someone whose reputation in these matters is important to my livelihood, like a hollywood star AND you are making money off of it.

I bet there are a whole lot of bloggers out there, not that I care or know, who chat on gossip blogs that say nasty things about stars and get away with it, as long as it's not for money, and even then they usually get away with it.

Its all about the criminal allegation with regards to someones livelihood especially.

Bloggers shouldn't do that and we should not have laws that protect them so they can. There are enough trolls out there now.

s.b. said...

Sorry Mark one more comment. The video was not up when I commented, nor did I name you, something I'm pretty careful about by the way.

I don't know if you follow blogs but I have been criticized at times for saying someone did or said something without naming a name, and people can discredit that and do. Often people indignantly demand a name. But I am very careful about not naming names when it's important. I don't even name ridings or cities when its important.

Obviously it takes away from the impact of the comment but its very important.

No one can search your name and come up with my comment.

A BCer in Toronto said...

I just realized how ironic it would be if I got sued for libel in a post about blogging and libel chill.

That said, nobody sue me, please!

But seriously (although I am serious about not wanting to be sued) I do feel that bloggers, and commenters, to have an obligation to be wary and aware of libel, and to make sure their postings, and comments, don't cross the line. I have, on rare occasion, deleted comments I felt to be potentially libelous.

However, I also feel that Canada's libel laws are out of date and from another era, and need to be rewritten to be effective and sensible for the Internet age, and the new way information is disseminated and shared.