With the Zeke’s saga heating up the blogosphere (did I mention I was Geisted?), the Globe and Mail has a piece by Mathew Ingram about the libel chill affecting prominent bloggers. It lists the Zeke’s case as an example (though it for some reason weasels its way out of naming the guy who’s suing him).
The issue isn’t all that difficult to understand. Blogging has created an army of citizen journalists. Some write only about the actions of their puppies, others think they’re more important than those “MSM hacks”. But they all write. And anything you publish is subject to libel law.
What’s changed is the way the Internet has democratized media. When college newspapers commit copyright infringement or blatantly libel people, nobody really cares because it’s just a few thousand copies and everyone forgets after a while. But with the Internet, a single blog post by some idiot on his couch can reach worldwide exposure with a few good links. In the case of Pierre-Antoine Tremblay, the guy who’s suing Chris Hand, a Google search of his name is littered with pages about his lawsuit, and that’s what everyone’s going to know him by.
Of course, that’s all his fault. Had he not brought the legal action in the first place, nobody would have noticed the original post, his Google situation would have been salvageable and he wouldn’t be getting all this negative publicity.
On the other hand, these blogs and those college newspapers have one thing in common: they don’t have any money. That’s the real reason why small-time publishers don’t get sued for libel: It’s just not worth it. Even if you win, you won’t get any money. It’s only when you go after the big guys that you can get rich.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop some people with sensitive egos and lots of time on their hands from launching frivolous, over-the-top lawsuits.
With great power comes great responsibility. We have to watch what we write, and hope that it doesn’t come to a point where we have to justify our words in front of a judge.
Kate has some thoughts on this issue as well.