The following is a guest post by Matt Powers. His bio is at the end of the article.
A few months ago I practically exhausted my computer keys posting on websites about the Crystal Cox judgment. Just in case you don’t live on a blogger’s island, Crystal Cox is a self-described “Investigative Blogger,” who called a bunch of lawyers, one in particular “a thug, thief and a liar“.
Cox’s attacks were so prolific, that when searching “Kevin Padrick”, an attorney she really went after, Cox’s negative blog posts came up way before his genteel website advertising his services. Padrick, being an attorney, sued Cox claiming defamation. Cox, who acted as her own defense attorney (yeah, you know what they say about that), alleged she was protected by Oregon’s media shield laws. She refused to reveal the source she used to characterize Padrick. She lost. The judge rendered a $2.5 million settlement.
The case rifled through the blogosphere. Most writers skewered anyone who agreed with the judge. They jawboned endlessly about the blog vs. journalist debate. But the point they missed was – journalists have no special rights that ordinary citizens do not posses. So if you’re blogging – whether you think of yourself as a media professional or not – the law applies to you. So here are some quick tips you need to know to keep yourself on the right side of the law.
(Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney and this is not legal advice. This is copywriting advice that comes from common sense.)
- Keep it light and bright. Chances are no one is going to sue you saying they’re nice. When you go negative be prepared to learn about terms such as: libel, defamation, slander etc.
- If it’s public, you can be sued. It doesn’t matter if you’re a housewife with a WordPress account railing against a brand, or a business man ranting against city permits, once you hit send and it’s published you may be called to defend your prose.
- Truth is usually a defense. In most lawsuits involving what you say about others – brands, companies, people, the drunk down the street – truth is usually a defense. But not universally. One newspaper had to pay a settlement for reporting a Brazilian mayor was found guilty of corruption, when he was found guilty of corruption. Weird.
- Satire is another defense. If the statement you print IS so outrageous that no reasonable person would believe it, you’re safe. See the Larry Flynt rule. (I dare you not to laugh!)
- Brush up on your Media Law. Ignorance of the law is no defense. And I learned most of what I know about media law from Society of Professional Journalists. You can too. SPJ’s one-day Citizen Journalism Academy is an excellent place to start. You’ll learn basics of media law, the ethics of journalism, how to access public records and meetings, and using technology in your writing.
Be professional with your blog. Have editorial policies and standards that take into account media law, ethnics and journalism standards. Don’t self censor, but self-analyze more. And when in doubt just replace your name with the person you’re talking about and ask – should I still write this?
Matt Powers is an Internet Marketer at Blue Soda Promo, an online promotional products company. BSP imprints logos on items like sunglasses, tote bags, stress balls, koozies and polo shirts at ridiculously low prices. We make your brand POP!