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Blog Faces Lawsuit Over Reader Comments 364

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the this-will-get-worse-before-it-gets-better dept.
Carl Bialik from the WSJ writes "In a legal case being watched closely by bloggers, an Internet company has sued the owner of a blog for comments posted to his site by readers, the Wall Street Journal Online reports. Traffic-Power.com, which sells tools for boosting Web traffic, sued Aaron Wall, age 25, over statements posted in the comments section of Wall's search-engine-optimization blog, SEOBook.com. (Wall also has posted about the case.) 'Legal analysts said the case falls into somewhat murky legal territory, but that Mr. Wall may have some protection from liability under federal law,' WSJ.com says. 'Courts generally have held that the operators of computer message boards and mailing lists cannot be held liable for statements posted by other people. Blogs might be viewed in a similar light, they said.' However, Daniel Perry, a lawyer who has followed the case, says that Wall's case is complicated by his own negative comments about Traffic-Power, which could be seen as a competitor to his site. 'To be candid, he sort of moved into this moving propeller,' Perry said. 'The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people.'"
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Blog Faces Lawsuit Over Reader Comments

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  • by the_rev_matt (239420) <slashbotNO@SPAMrevmatt.com> on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:50PM (#13446726) Homepage
    "The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people."

    Actually, that's one of the greatest strengths of the internet. True freedom of speech.
    • by the_raptor (652941) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:13PM (#13446931)
      Seriously when did people get this idea that you should be able to say whatever you want and never have any consequences? All freedom of speech means is that the Government won't try to stop your (should be political) speech. It doesn't mean you can libel and slander people anonymously consequence free.

      Why should you be allowed to go around staring negative rumours about your business competitors? How would you like your boss to lie to a future employer that you got fired for drug abuse or for having kiddie porn?

      People want rights but never seem to understand that responsibilities are just as important for the functioning of society.

      One of the great problems with the Internet currently is that there are so many anonymous cowards, who troll, spam and lie. There is very little consequence to such actions so people aren't inhibited.
      • Some random commenter in the dark depths of the internet should be able to say whatever they damn well please, because nobody is listening. If Bill O'Reilly gets on TV and says that I financially support terrorists, when I don't, then that can cause actual harm to my reputation, because way too many people watch his show. If some weirdo on the internet says that, and only 1 person reads the comment, who cares?
        • I wonder about that... The real solution to the free speech problem isn't censorship, but to keep track of reputation. If people knew that what they say would matter, and that saying stupid things will mean fewer listeners, then we would solve many problems.

          Give every poster an ID. Log all messages from each ID, and allow others to invest their own reputation in people and donate points. In short, a reputation market. Of course, there will be karma whores, and stuff like that...
        • by King_TJ (85913) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @02:22PM (#13447624) Journal
          Well, the problem *then* becomes, how do you *know* "nobody is listening"?

          It's entirely possible (and has already happened) that someone creates a "blog" site intended to serve as sort of an electronic version of a personal diary, accessible anyplace they have Internet access, and mainly intended for a few friends or family members to use if they care to join in. But someone stumbles onto it, discovers what they view as an interesting conversation about something of significance - and starts directing heavy traffic to it. All of a sudden, this person's formerly "unknown" comments have big influence.

          Therefore, you have to consider the *potential audience* for your words before you type them - not your current actual audience. When you host a web site on the Internet, the *potential* is always quite large.

          If you want to write comments that truly aren't even intended to reach an audience beyond a few selected people, you'd password protect it.
        • Some random commenter in the dark depths of the internet should be able to say whatever they damn well please . . .
          The internet has precious few dark depths. If I was considering buying a Traffic-Power product, I might do a google search on them in order to find out more. Google is good at dredging the dark depths, and I would likely stumble upon the blog in question and it might affect my decision. Hence, the speech should reasonably be subject to libel laws etc.
      • Psssst! (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:38PM (#13447169)
        the_raptor (652941) has kiddie porn and uses the marijuana. Tell a friend.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        But we've had the a "popular" and commercial net for 10 years now, and really in that time I don't think the world is going to end from a truckload of trolls and some slanderous ACs. In the end, the world has kept turning and for all the whinging about spam, my gmail is spam-free, and my old hotmail catches 99 out of 100 spams.

        I don't see what the big problem is really. All the pushes that have been made against the o-so-terrible-trolls have been made by corporations trying to protect themselves, half of th
      • No, it doesn't (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:42PM (#13447222)
        All freedom of speech means is that the Government won't try to stop your (should be political) speech.

        It seems like the idea here is that you should have freedom of speech if you're criticizing the government, but not if you're criticizing a business.

        Considering the large number of people I run across who espouse the belief the government should have as little power as possible and businesses should take up any important functions instead, this would seem in the long run to maybe lead to not having any meaningful free speech at all.

        "Libel" doesn't really have anything to do with it. Did you read the article? You know, the one this comments section is supposedly talking about? The lawsuit doesn't even specify exactly which comments that seobook.com is being sued for, and the claims which were likely to have sparked the lawsuit seem to have been corroborated by other sources. In this light it seems likely that the comments prompting the lawsuit at worst are legitimate criticisms of this trafficpower company, and at best are incorrect but honestly meant by the people who posted them.

        Ever heard the term "chilling effects"? The problem is we have to err on either one side or the other. Either we are too cautious with freedom of speech and allow bad information to flourish, or we are too strict and dissuade people from exercising their freedom. There isn't a middle ground. The thing is though that if we err on the side of caution, nothing is hurt. People can make up their own minds and decide not to trust an "anonymous coward" on the internet unless what they say can be corroborated. However if we err on the other side, and wind up silencing people because they cannot risk the consequences of having spoken, then there is no way to repair this. Those comments are lost forever.

        There is very little consequence to such actions so people aren't inhibited.

        Ah yes, this horrible environment in which there are no negative consequences for expressing oneself... how will civilization survive.
      • by moviepig.com (745183) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:46PM (#13447281) Homepage
        One of the great problems with the Internet currently is that there are so many anonymous cowards, who troll, spam and lie.

        It's not a problem, but merely a behavior.

        The problem is (and long has been) the degree to which we've tended to believe the printed word, no matter the source. The Internet's gradually improving that situation.

      • All freedom of speech means is that the Government won't try to stop your (should be political) speech.

        I have news for you. Lawsuits are empowered by the government, so if the government empowers someone to sue you regarding a comment, then the government is not granting you freedom to speak that comment.

        And freedom of speech is not restricted to supporting or rejecting a political candidate. Honest protest of any issue is permissible, and among consenting adults discussion of essentially any topic is per
        • The only case under which Burger King would have the right to sue would be if Burger King could demonstrate that there were no cyanide in its french fries, that the blogger intentionally fabricated the story to damage Burger King's reputation, and that a reasonable person would believe the story produced by the blogger.

          I must disagree with some of these comments.

          1) Burger King does not have to prove anything about their fries. The blogger must offer proof that Burger King added the cyanide. That cyanide w
          • 2) The degree of fabrication could and IMHO should only be a factor in determining restitution. It has nothing to do with determing the validity of the litigation. Even if the blogger could show he/she truly believed the comments were accurate and took every possible action to verify the statement, that does not change the fundamental fact that the statement is WRONG.

            So a blogger can never publish a negative statement about anyone? Because that seems to me to be the result of your viewpoint. Someone acting

          • Please define "reasonable person".

            There is a defined legal concept known as "The Common Man" that Common Law countries use. I am specifically aware of the concept in the UK, Canada and Australia.

            Loosely put, the definition is "if the common man would not find that to be a reasonable action, you loose". For example, going swimming in a large storm on a beach with signs saying beach closed due to dangerous conditions, a person going swimming and breaking their neck has no legal grounds for suing. It very effe
      • by avi33 (116048) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @02:02PM (#13447442) Homepage
        Mr. Wall, 25 years old, who runs an Internet marketing business from his home, said the suit "is so vague in nature that it's hard to know what I'm being sued for."

        To use your own logic, there are well-traveled avenues that you could use to prevent your boss from lying about you. They are libel and slander laws, and if it happens with company compliance, you could set yourself up to never work again.

        This guy is being served with a murky lawsuit, and the plantiff's counsel offered to drop the whole thing if he removed every bit of referring content to their company. If their counsel really did their homework, they would have documented each and every infraction on his site, included it in the suit, and asked for specific remedies (whether it be money, removal of content, etc.) Upon receiving it, he could get useful legal counsel, and either fight it or comply. Instead, they're trying to intimidate him into silence.

        That would be like Microsoft suing slashdot over critical posts and offering to drop the whole thing if every reference to MS was removed from this site.

        Maybe before you try the Uncle Ben defense (With great power comes great responsibility) you should RTFConstitution.
      • Seriously when did people get this idea that you should be able to say whatever you want and never have any consequences?

        You know, the GP only contained three lines. One of them was blank and one of them was a quote.

        This is what it said:

        "The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people."

        Actually, that's one of the greatest strengths of the internet. True freedom of speech.

        So I have to ask: what part of that did you read as saying "people should not be held accountable for acts of lib

    • by ifwm (687373) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:19PM (#13446985) Journal
      It's not freedom of speech that's the issue here.

      It's freedom from the consequences of your speech that is being debated.
    • True freedom of speech is being quashed at every opportunity by those who have a greater financial status.

      Of course every once in a while David beats Goliath but on the whole we get squeezed tighter and tighter every day.

      This is precisely why I use an alias on any blog I post to.
    • by Eil (82413) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:24PM (#13447024) Homepage Journal

      "The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people."

      You mean, if I were to say this:

      "Daniel Perry is a two-bit fucktard who plainly doesn't understand what the Internet is all about. He spreads lies, deceit, and only wants to sue people for their hard-earned money while he accepts fat checks from his clients. What a worm, that guy."

      That would mean Slashdot might be held liable in a lawsuit, amiright?

      Also, if you're not allowed to make negative comments about people on the Internet, then about 98% of all blogs ever written would be in violation of the law.
      • "That would mean Slashdot might be held liable in a lawsuit, amiright?"

        Possibly. [slashdot.org] But I doubt it.

        "Also, if you're not allowed to make negative comments about people on the Internet, then about 98% of all blogs ever written would be in violation of the law."

        You do know the difference between a negative comment and libel, don't you?

        libel: [answers.com]
        1. A false publication, as in writing, print, signs, or pictures, that damages a person's reputation.
        2. The act of presenting suc

        • 1. A false publication, as in writing, print, signs, or pictures, that damages a person's reputation.

          And how do you determine its falseness? Court trial? A trial initiated by, say, a 2 billion dollars a year corp against your basement-dwelling (hypotetically) ass. Result: no freedom of speech whatsoever as the court costs alone will utterly ruin you before you even get to the actual trial proper. For practical example, check out the "RIAA vs. teenagers" circus. Result: no freedom of speech against those p

  • Ahem (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stecoop (759508) *
    The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people

    What makes you think your law applies in my country? I know that US law may like to be extended to every reach of the world but those countires own their internet too which would apply to their laws.
    • WTO (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nurb432 (527695)
      you are right, until you factor in the effect of the WTO treaties..

      All they have to do is attach the term ' commerce ' to the case, and the more favorable laws apply .
      • Re:WTO (Score:2, Interesting)

        by stecoop (759508) *
        All right choose the favorable law in this scenario:

        Some guy lives in France that doesn't allow hate speech from the stuff that happened in WWII; the guy reads the hate speech deemed illegal in France posited by someone that lived in Russia and the server resides some place in China.

        Ok, so we go after that bad guy and got him shutdown (I don't know which bad it was but it is done).

        Now the same guy that lives in Russia has very strict pornography laws. He then reads the web site of the guy that read the hat
    • by ifwm (687373)
      So you WANT the ability to anonymously lie about people? Even when such lies have very real consequences?

      Because I have heard that you like raping three year old boys. And then you eat them.
    • So what country are you from, that it's an anarchist's utopia? I suspect that even in your earthly paradise, there are laws against slander, libel and perjury, and possibly against insider trading and false advertising as well. All of these acts involve speech. And all are illegal in most nations.
    • Re:Ahem (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SlayerofGods (682938)
      /sigh
      The plaintiff is a US company and the defendant is a US citizen.
      That comment was directed at a case taking place entirely in the US legal system.
      How is that comment insightful? It's more of trolling then anything else.
  • hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by justin12345 (846440) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:51PM (#13446729)
    'The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people.'

    This guy has obviously never been to /.
  • by Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:51PM (#13446731) Homepage
    So, honestly, two operators in a dirty business go at each other, my personal feeling is I hope they both go down. It's kind of like two porn sites arguing which has the sluttiest bitches...
    • So, honestly, two operators in a dirty business go at each other, my personal feeling is I hope they both go down. It's kind of like two porn sites arguing which has the sluttiest bitches...

      Yeah, when two sites are talking about their respective bitches I too hope they both go down.

      Wait, you meant the porn sites, didn't you....nevermind...
    • Nice analogy but I don't think it fully applies. There is nothing inherently evil about search engine optimization. The search engines are do or die for small e-commerce sites and optimizing your content to get the most notice is something you cannot ignore.

      Now spamming link sites to increase your page ranking (ie getting more google votes) can be seen as sleazy. If you do a Google search on any niche product and look at the top google fetches typically will find a sleazy seo behind the scenes providing mas
      • Saeed says:
        So, honestly, two operators in a dirty business go at each other, my personal feeling is I hope they both go down. It's kind of like two porn sites arguing which has the sluttiest bitches...

        truckaxle says:Nice analogy but I don't think it fully applies. There is nothing inherently evil about search engine optimization.

        Whoa there truckaxle... are you saying there's something inherently evil about slutty bitches? You've never met *good* slutty bitches? Trust me, they're out there...

        Anyway, the

  • by emidln (806452) <adam4300@kettering.edu> on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:51PM (#13446732) Homepage
    Maybe I don't understand, but if this isn't libel then isn't it covered under the 1st amendment's free speech clause?
    • That's the crux of the matter, isn't it...

      Trade Secrets and libel/defamation? Or just speech?

      Well, somehow I doubt the whole trade-secrets thing... what is their secret "we're evil"?

      Re: libel/defamation, the ultimate defense is truth. You can say all the nasty things you want about someone -- so long as they're true -- and it's not defamation or libel [or, rather, since my example said "say," slander].
  • by Nerdfest (867930) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:51PM (#13446733)
    I'd spout off some disparaging comments about lawyers, but am now afraid to ....
  • by bgfay (5362) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:52PM (#13446737) Homepage
    I just bought a Scion xA and had to drive forty miles out of my way to do it. The reason was that my local dealership screwed around with me so much that I couldn't stand to buy from them.

    I went on the site scionlife.com and in their "Review Dealers" section ripped Romano Scion of Syracuse, NY. I told how they had done me wrong and advised others to never shop there.

    Is ScionLife liable? Am I? Is Slashdot liable now that I've put it up here?

    And finally, if someone spray paints a swastica on my garage door while I'm out of town and unable to remove it, am I liable for a hate crime?
    • It depends if the swastika is a backwards Nazi one I guess. A normal swastika has been a symbol of good fortune for thousands of years in India.

      I think people take slander, libel, and general censorship too seriously. Just remember that freedom of speech/expression of ideas is just an illusion in America. So watch your back.
    • by kraada (300650) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:59PM (#13446807)
      Whether or not you actually are liable, you can (and may well) be sued for libel and defamation of character. Even if you're innocent, the question arises: how willing are you to defend yourself? How many lawyers will you hire for how many years just to prove you didn't do it?

      The lawsuit isn't bad because the website is going to get convicted it's because if these suits are going to continue popping up websites will not be allowed to let comments be posted due to the cost of proving themselves innocent.

      Being a litigious society sucks because of the amount of time and money wasted on lawyers. And that's really 99% of the reason why we should care.
      • Whether or not you actually are liable, you can (and may well) be sued for libel and defamation of character. Even if you're innocent, the question arises: how willing are you to defend yourself? How many lawyers will you hire for how many years just to prove you didn't do it?

        Depending on your state, you can file a motion under SLAPP laws to protect yourself. If you are innocent of libel/slander, it is not allowable for a larger entity to quash your speech by threatening an expensive legal action.

    • Is ScionLife liable? Am I? Is Slashdot liable now that I've put it up here?

      I think the main question you should be asking is whether or not your comments were factually correct. If you're not BSing, you're not libeling. That doesn't stop you from getting sued, of course, but it hopefully stops them from winning, and helps you to successfully counter-sue for your costs if they're being jerks about it.

      And finally, if someone spray paints a swastica on my garage door while I'm out of town and unable to r
    • Truth is an absolute defense, so if what you said is true, you're fine.

      "And finally, if someone spray paints a swastica on my garage door while I'm out of town and unable to remove it, am I liable for a hate crime?"

      Um, I'm tempted to make a comment about how silly this is, but I think you will realize it yourself given time.
    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:38PM (#13447173)
      It must meet three criteria:

      1) The statements you make must be false statements. Truth is the ultimate defence against a libel suit. No matter how bad something is that you say, if it's true, it's not libel.

      2) You had to know the statements were false. If you believed you were making true statements, that is also a defence against libel. Of course that's a little harder to prove, gets in to he-said, she-said to try and prove if you knew or not.

      3) The statements had to be made with the intent to cause harm. If they were made as a joke, it's not libel. Again, gets in to an argument of if you really intended to cause harm.

      So, if your statements are true, and provably so, you are fine. If not it gets a little more unclear.

      Now please note, they could still sue you, even if their suit had no merit. That shit happens ALL the time. Even if everything you said was true you could still be sued. Doesn't mean you'd be liable for anything if you defended yourself, but you'd still have to defend yourself.
  • Text of the lawsuit (Score:2, Informative)

    by notdanielp (244035)
    The lameness filter blocked me, so find it here [seobook.com].

    14. At unknown date or dates, Doe I, alone or in concert with Does I through X, began disseminating Plaintiff's trade secrets to the public, with such information now available on various web sites. Among other things, Defendant or Defendants posted proprietary relating to Plaintiff's solicitation, procedures on publicly accessible areas of the internet.
  • How dumb. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Poromenos1 (830658) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:52PM (#13446744) Homepage
    How can you sue someone for other peoples' comments on his/her blog? Most people don't even read the comments, and are certainly not responsible for their content. That's like suing the phone company for what someone said on the phone.
    • I'm inclined to agree. I think it's more that the courts have ruled you actually have the right to anonymity, so they're going after the first guy they -can- identify. I really doubt if it's going to go over, though. Certainly, I'm sure there's mountains of libelous text in Slashdot's archives, but I don't really think you can sue Slashdot for that.

    • That's like suing the phone company for what someone said on the phone.

      The TV networks got sued/fined over the "wardrobe malfunction" with Janet Jackson, which is a better analogy. The phone network is private; TV and web are broadcast. Different rules, though the web should have it's own rules. For example, if someone complains about an unreasonable slanderous post, I'd say it would be fair to expect the site owner to investigate it at the very least. If you are the one ultimately in control of the data,

    • Most people don't even read the comments

      Thats only on /. ;)

    • Editorial control (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Per Abrahamsen (1397)
      I believe part of the answer lies in editorial control. If you delete comments on your blog, you may be conisderet an editor rather than a common carrier, and become responsible for the content.

      Another case is if you refuse to remove illegal material from your blog, when pointed out to you, you may become responsible.

      Of course, if you do remove the material, it may be viewer as editorial control, so it is damned if you do, and damned if you don't.
  • by confusion (14388) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:54PM (#13446753) Homepage
    Because it's the Internet, there are so many permuations of where the server is, who owns the site, and who made the comment, and where all those people live. Certainly, a company needs to do what it can to defend it's name, but I've got to believe it's going to get a LOT harder to do so.

    Jerry
    http://www.cyvin.org/ [cyvin.org]
  • Was it slander? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Transcendent (204992) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:54PM (#13446754)
    If it wasn't slanderous, then what is the problem? People have the right to present their review of any product, or anything.

    All the articles I read about it only say he posted a negative comment about the web-search boosting product. Did he lie about it, or was it a fair comment that he made?

    Some people will sue others over even looking at them funny. Overall, though, I have my money on Aaron Wall.
    • It can't be slander, slander is oral. It may be libel, but that hinges on the truth of the statement, something it may be impossible for the blogger to prove as he isn't the one who authored the comment.
  • but apparently... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kevin lyda (4803) * on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:54PM (#13446762) Homepage
    ...the court systems are there to beat people up with.
    • How sad that he's modded funny, when the reality is he's correct.

      I despise the litigousness of my country, especially now that so many people consider the court to be a get rich quick opportunity.
  • Horse pucky (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fatcatman (800350) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @12:55PM (#13446770)
    'The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people.'

    Horse pucky. If you aren't free to share your opinion, then this isn't the United States I thought I lived in. More and more, it seems like the freedom of speech is directly related to how much money you have.

    There is a huge difference between blatently attempting to undermine and destroy a reputation, and simply expressing your opinion (negative or otherwise). The ability to express one's opinion, even if said opinion is extremely negative, should be protected speech.

    The people filing this lawsuit are nothing more than schoolyard bullies.
    • Re:Horse pucky (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ScentCone (795499) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:19PM (#13446979)
      The people filing this lawsuit are nothing more than schoolyard bullies

      Unless they're right. In which case they're making sure that another party isn't abusing the first amendment and BSing while presenting nonsense as fact. It could be done by either party, for any reason, and the only issue is whether or not the person posting his comments, or allowing the other comments to stay up on his web site, are truthful.

      The truth may indeed be extremely negative, but who cares, as long as it's the truth. But a lot of people post demonstrable lies in blogs, hoping that the search engines will pick up on it, etc. The person being lied about should have recourse, whether large or small.

      In this case, how have you made your determination about the truthfullness (and thus, non-libelous) nature of the web content in question? I didn't see enough to go on, so you must know more.
  • Its a sad day (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 834r9394557r011 (878286) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:02PM (#13446835) Homepage Journal
    There are tons of people out there saying microsoft blows, and I havn't heard of them getting sued. I think they are just scared because, it must be true. Personally I have never used any of their tools, but I think they should be able to handle a few people badmouthing them. I think this is a gross overreaction on their part. I say to them "MAN UP" and "GROW UP" and maybe make your product better if it has problems, don't sue the guy who wants to save people the headache and money of using said product.
    • "There are tons of people out there saying microsoft blows, and I havn't heard of them getting sued"

      That's because truth is an absolute defense.
  • ...is for the publicity. If they had simply ignored this blog, who would know about this company whose initials are TP? Now everyone on slashdot, among other web forums, knows. Troll successful.
  • WTF (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sheepdot (211478) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:02PM (#13446837) Journal
    'The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people.'

    I beg to differ [wikipedia.org].

    Hurting someone else's feelings is my spaghetti-god-given right.
  • yes it is (Score:2, Insightful)

    by suezz (804747)
    ""To be candid, he sort of moved into this moving propeller," said Mr. Perry, a former Orange County judge. He said courts would likely focus on how Mr. Wall responded to requests to remove material from his site, and Mr. Wall's criticism of Traffic-Power.com. "The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people.""

    wrong try again - it called freedom of speech -

    like I can say microsoft sucks and is a convicted monopolists that uses strongarm tactics to undermine the open standards in the industry.

    I als
    • You can say whatever you want, if it's an opinion.

      You can't say "Bill Gates rapes little boys and girls"

      You CAN say "I think Bill Gates might rape little boys and girls"

      I think.
      • Seems I was right for a few years (1974-1990), but then a new case in 1990 set a standard of being able to prove the "opinion" false for there to be a libel suit.

        In other words, as it applies to the case posted above, if Traffic-Power.com can prove what was said on the blog is false, then there's a libel suit there.

        That of course doesn't explain WHO would be at fault.
  • Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheAwfulTruth (325623) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:05PM (#13446861) Homepage
    "The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people"

    It isn't?

    Last I heard people were free to express an opinion, even one that is "wrong". :)

    Well sure, spreading lies and actively defacing or hurting an individual should be frowned upon, but bad-mouthing a company or a competitor you don't like? Hello? Slashdot anyone? Yes, the editors get involved in this too. Slashdot is as much of a bash fest as it is a news and informative opinion medium.

    If merely bad mouthing a company that you don't like is not legal, Slashdot would have been sued out of existance long ago! Half the comments made about companies we don't like here are in fact complete nonsense and out-right lies.

    If cases like this hold up, places like Slashdot don't have much of a future. As much as I hate the large amount of truly idiodic comments that cross this site, I don't want to see it taken down by corporate lawyers and I sure as hell don't want to feel like every word I say, interpreted in any number of ways by any number of people might suddenly land me in jail. :(
    • The reason Slashdot hasn't been sued (successfully, anyhow) is because there is a large company behind them that would pay for lawyers. Anyone knows they would not just fold and take down the site. Lawyers know that small site operators can be intimidated by a legal letter and just take their site down. That is what they are hoping for.

      If you run a website that is the slightest bit controversial, you had better be prepared to deal with legal threats. Otherwise, you might as well just save yourself the troub
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:08PM (#13446884)
    Freedom of Speech is not free. It's costs are measured by the expenses of defending it.
  • by scotty777 (681923) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:10PM (#13446900) Journal
    Freedom of speech and press once needed the protection of law. Now we have it because of the Internet.

    Billie Holiday & Arthur Herzog Jr said it best:

    Mama may have, papa may have
    But God bless the child that's got his own
    That's got his own
    He just worry 'bout nothin'
    Cause he's got his own

  • I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:10PM (#13446902) Journal
    Everything I know about IP I learned on slashdot, but...

    (Sorry, I've always wanted to say that. Actually, most of what I know about IP was learned while helping my SO study for her IP class in her MBA program)

    Let me get the facts straight, as the article seemed a little light on details. Some guy, in the US, posts factual information or personal opinion on his weblog, and allows others to do so as well. These include unkind words about a company who makes a product or service which may compete with a product or service with which the author is financially involved. (try and parse that one)

    A Trade Secret, traditionally, is something so necessary to your core business and so valuable that you believe that keeping it a secret is more likely to make you money than patenting it, or it is unpatentable. Telling the world a trade secret is only unlawful if you are contractually bound not to tell, or if you came by the information through theft or other nefarious means. Once a trade secret is no longer secret, you have no protection (hence the incentive for patenting and licensing).

    So, unless this guy stole the information, or is under a nondisclosure agreement, this looks an awful lot like free speech. The others who posted in his site may have written unkind things as well, but the comments are (I assume) clearly delineated as visitor comments, and not the writings of the author. I think you can go pretty far toward slander without getting into trouble that way.

    I'm wondering why this is even an issue, unless its just punishement through lawyer fees, regardelss of the outcome.
  • The Communications Decency Act, sec. 230(c)(1) says,

    No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
    And, in sect. 230 (f)(3),
    "The term ''information content provider'' means any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other interactive computer service.
    Why a blog with comments would be treated differently from, say, a BBS or a chat room escapes me. And I teach this stuff for a living. So much for the defamation claims.

    The trade secret claim is a little harder. It's probably the case that Congress didn't have trade secrets in mind when it wrote sec. 230. On the other hand, if you read the full text [findlaw.com] of sec. 230 you will see that Congress intended fairly broad protection; in sec. 230(f)(3) it certainly wrote in very broad terms. In law there are few certainties until after a court rules, but I think the balance here points towards a finding of non-liability both on CDA grounds and traditional trade secret grounds (where innocent receivers of information, and especially journalists who receive information, are not usually liable).

    • "I think the balance here points towards a finding of non-liability both on CDA grounds and traditional trade secret grounds (where innocent receivers of information, and especially journalists who receive information, are not usually liable)."

      Isn't that really the issue here, that a blogger may not be considered a "journalist"? In that case, what protection do they have?
  • by AviLazar (741826) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:14PM (#13446942) Journal
    from posting on someone's forum or blog, who I don't like, and hope they get sued.

    ALright, with luck I can post as an AC on /., saying how bad a big company is, and have them sue CmdrTaco :) W000T!!! CmdrTaco I want my mod points or else!

    This just shows how stupid courts can get, and I swear, judges should really just smack some people around.
  • Exactly (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:15PM (#13446948) Journal
    "Traffic-Power.com, which sells tools for boosting Web traffic, sued Aaron Wall, age 25, over statements posted in the comments section of Wall's search-engine-optimization blog, SEOBook.com" (emphasis mine)

    Number one tool for boosting web traffic: publicity. Hence, lawsuit.

  • Traffic-Power.com said in the suit that confidential information about the company has been published on the blog, and it accused Mr. Wall of publishing "false and defamatory information," but it didn't identify any of the material in question.

    So which is it? Is it accurate confidential information, or is it false, meaning that it doesn't spill company secrets? Judicial estoppal says you can't argue both sides of a case.

    And while we're at it, just what makes information "confidential". Can you own an

  • Timely Warnings...Blogging Can Get You Sued!

    No, blogging cannot get you sued, nor can owning and firing a gun.

    Who you point you blog or gun at, and where you aim, that can in general cause various reprocussions.

    Now stop hiding behind shit words, and face up to this properly, and for those who start talking about freedom of speech and Internet, you are playing the wrong game.

    This should be tried as any other case, imagine if it was a reply in a newspaper (giving too much credit to anything that is a 'blog'
    • Repercussions damnit.

      Repercussions of bad spelling and / or typos on slashdot? arrogant self-vaulting twatwits correctly you ad-infinitum.

      BTW I am not assigning guilt, just stopping people using the Internet and 'blog' to cloud the issue.

      Yes it was other peoples comments, but the fact they are on the Internet or 'blog' is irrelevant really. Or is it?

      I dunno...
  • by tetrode (32267) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:26PM (#13447042) Homepage
    This trafficy-power seems to have a nice web site.

    Very decent.

    Look! there is even a mailinglist I can subscribe to. Quick let's do it before someone else does it. ... fill in the e-mail address and clicks on subscribe ...

    Hmm, what do I get for a page:


    http://65.41.209.68/~lisa/?type=s [65.41.209.68]

    File not found!

    The URL you have loaded has not been found on this server.

    Please alert the system administrator if you believe you have reached this in error.


    What a losers
  • by Mr. Flibble (12943) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:31PM (#13447092) Homepage
    As seen on this discussion [markcarey.com] and this website. [trafficpowersucks.com]

    Reminds me a bit of a certan guy at SCO...
  • "Perry said. 'The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people.'"

    Whats this guy smoking? It wasnt like he was stalking Pamela Jones giving out her adress or something. He said som unkind words about a competitors product wich he thought sucked. Whats next, Linus Torvalds and gang going to crazytown on the infamous "Get The Facts" campaign?

    Come to think of it, if this would go through i think Microsoft is the one up the creek without a paddle. Imagine all the FUD to make money on.

    XP
  • by laughingcoyote (762272) <{moc.eticxe} {ta} {lwohtsehgrab}> on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:35PM (#13447139) Journal

    Everyone on this site is a convicted murderer who eats babies.

    Just libeled all of you! (I hope). You may begin suing Slashdot now.

  • this case will revolve around the communications decency act [wikipedia.org] (wikipedia) and the phrase: "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

    like the article says, this really is still a murky area of the law--tho some decisions (like the Zeran one mentioned) seem to grant immunity, it's not clear whether this law really extends so far. recently there was a case involving eBay and a defamato
  • by Catbeller (118204) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:40PM (#13447195) Homepage
    "The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people."

    The hell he says. It's called the First Amendment, firstly, and secondly, speech is what the Internet is FOR! It's not a communications system run for the benefit of corporations. It's a protocol. It was designed to let people speak -- once upon a time, the people who couldn't speak because a cult or a country would destroy them for voicing the truth. No more...

    There are laws covering slander and libel. If a business is suing people regardless of actual illegality, then we have a abuse of the courts a la Scientology. Sue to make people shut up; failing that, bankrupt and ruin them as a warning to others.
  • ...anymore in the U.S? God this country is going down the tubes fast. I wonder what's going to happen to Consumer reports magazine when they pot a product? Personally, I deal with two really shitty products at work that I'm stuck with because there are no alternatives. I'd love to talk about how they suck and why, but I know those companies would pull the same kind of shit. That only leaves word of mouth for now. Every chance I get in real life I tell people to avoid these products like the plague. I
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @01:55PM (#13447378) Journal
    2008 XX-XX
    United Press International
    In a landmark case, a recent civil action has resulted in a person being successfully sued for having a negative opinion. Said the plaintiff's attorney: "Look, everyone knew that the defendant had a poor opinion of my client. He didn't precisely say this explicitly, but it was evident in his conduct and manner. The defendant is a well-respected member of his community, and so this implied reputation had a direct negative effect on my client, both from a social and (more importantly) fiscal perspective. Knowing that the defendant didn't like my client in the least, prospective employers would view this negatively, either preventing my client from getting a good job, or reducing the scope of compensation offers. We are fortunate to have found a judge who understood the nuances of this case."
    Based on extensive precedent set in the Civil Rights litigation of the 20th century, it became de facto illegal to dislike someone if they were of an oppressed minority of any type. It was practically foreordained that this would be expanded to eventually apply regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. What happened here today is expected to be repeated across the country shortly.
  • Public Debate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @02:34PM (#13447731) Homepage Journal
    Any sane justice system would see this case decided in 45 minutes. The blogger is responsible for publishing his own comments; the others are responsible for publishing theirs.

    There might be a day or two argument over truth, liability and damages. If the comments are not true, then the people making them in public are liable for any damages proven to be caused by those comments. Not very complicated, and certainly nothing new on which to make arguments about "new Internet technologies" which make this different.

    Instead, watch this dispute consume months or years, including many days of scarce, publicly funded justice system labor. Watch lawyers pad their pockets with arguments that go nowhere, probably to arrive at either a backwards precedent, or just a settlement that settles nothing but the exchange of more money between the parties (and even more cuts to their lawyers). This is going to cost all of us even more money, immediately in the costs to the justice system to moderate this debate, probably without any benefit to future cases.

    This whole notion that "X changed everything" is the biggest lie of our lifetimes. Even when that's partly true, like Columbus' return from the Western Hemisphere with proof that Europeans should conquer the territory, it changes a lot - but not everything. Like realities of physics, economics, and justice. Other laws, like those written by lawyers and approved by judges, can change, too. But those are usually changed to suit the lawyers, regardless of how they affect the rest of us.

    Like saying that public speech on the Internet changes the familiar expectations of public, unmoderated speech and liability. Just like when someone posts slanderous, lying posters on a wall along a busy sidewalk. The building owner isn't liable for the damage caused by the posters, unless they're also the posterer. Likewise, people already know that unmoderated websites aren't responsible for the posts made by the public. All the noise to the contrary is just lawyers making excuses to increas their billings.
  • by jezor (51922) on Wednesday August 31, 2005 @04:32PM (#13448654) Homepage
    The U.S. law in question, which protects "service providers" from libel liability from third-party postings, has an interesting history. Back in 1995, a New York judge found [jmls.edu] that the then-proprietary Prodigy service could be held responsible for an allegedly libelous posting to its Money Talk bulletin board about the Stratton Oakmont financial services firm, on the theory that Prodigy exercised editorial control over the postings. The fact that Prodigy's editorial control was limited to automated dirty-words filtering was lost on the judge.

    In response to the uproar by ISPs and online hosts over this case, the U.S. Congress enacted a safe harbor for service providers, ironically into the roundly criticized Communications Decency Act. While most of the CDA was found unconstitutional, the safe harbor remains (at 47 U.S.C. 230 [cornell.edu], and has been used by a number of major ISPs (including AOL in a case involving a Matt Drudge story) over the years.

    This case will likely come down to whether a blog creator is a service provider as defined by the law and the cases that have interpreted it. What makes it interesting is that allowing public comments to a blog really falls somewhere in the spectrum between hosting a message board and publishing letters to the editor, depending on issues of control and other factors.

    A few other thoughts. First, regarding those Slashdotters who have marveled at the U.S.-centric views on Internet law, it's really the European Union (through its data protection and VAT laws among others) that has sought to project its legal structure regarding the Internet to others around the globe. Also, as it happens, libel via the Internet has generated major new jurisdictional questions, as the libelers have been brought to trial in foreign countries whose libel laws are much more pro-plaintiff than those of the alleged libeler's home country. (Take a look at the Dow Jones v. Gutnick [ojr.org] case for just one example of this.)

    -------------------
    Prof. Jonathan I. Ezor [mailto]
    Assistant Professor of Law and Technology
    Director, Institute for Business, Law and Technology (IBLT)
    Touro Law Center
    Co-Author, TechLawProf Blog [typepad.com]

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