August 25, 2010

Blogger Beware: You Can Be Sued Over ‘Anonymous’ Posts

8-24-2010 National:

Updated: When you're angry, complaining on the Web about a business or the person who runs it can be tempting.

But you might want to think a bit before putting up an online rant. While website hosts are generally protected from liability for comments posted by others, those who write such diatribes can be sued, points out the Los Angeles Times.

Expressing an opinion is often OK. However, disparaging a business operator or accusing a public official of criminal conduct are danger zones, as a growing number of those who are criticized on the Web turn to the courts for redress.

"Most people have no idea of the liability they face when they publish something online," says Eric Goldman, an Internet law expert at Santa Clara University. "A whole new generation can publish now, but they don't understand the legal dangers they could face. People are shocked to learn they can be sued for posting something that says, 'My dentist stinks.' "

Posting anonymously also may offer little or no protection if an Internet Service Provider is ordered by a court to reveal the poster's identity.

Last month, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a District of Nevada order requiring identity of three people accused of conducting an "Internet smear campaign via anonymous postings" against Quixtar, the Times article reports.

And in Canada courts are also ordering ISPs to identify individuals who have posted defamatory material online, writes attorney Maanit Zemel in a July 26 article in Law Times.

These so-called Norwich orders are routinely issued without an opportunity for the unknown poster to respond, the Miller Thomson associate points out. So plaintiffs seeking to unveil anonymous bloggers need to beware of potential legal repercussions, too:

Those who proceed without a sufficient basis to establish a defamation claim "might face significant consequences down the road," Zemel writes, "if the identified defendant can later demonstrate that there hadn't been enough evidence for the allegation of defamation and, thus, for the granting of the Norwich order." ..Source.. Martha Neil

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