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Lawsuits against bloggers are starting to pop up... you may want to add a "Comments Disclaimer" to your blog

You knew it was only a matter of time before lawyers got into the act, right? And I don't mean the many lawyers writing blawgs (as they're called). So far there is very little case law relating specifically to blogs and bloggers. That's changing. A case against a 19-year-old Harvard student who writes a Mac lovers blog called ThinkSecret is (last I heard) pending in California's Supreme Court. Apple contends he leaked proprietary information about the new iMac before the product was officially released.

More recently, blogger Aaron Wall was sued because of allegedly defamatory comments posted on his blog. (8/31/2005 Wall Street Journal: Blogger Faces Lawsuit Over Comments Posted By Readers.) Yes, you read that right. He's being sued because of comments other folks wrote and posted to his blog. The suit alleges that the comments reveal trade secrets about search engine optimization company Traffic-Power. I won't go into detail about the case. Instead I'll send you to...

a good synopsis here on Dave Taylor's blog.

Anyway, this latest legal move has got the blogosphere talking about adding a "comments disclaimer" to blogs. I don't know if it's absolutely necessary. But I decided to put up an initial draft of one. (You'll see it to the left, just under the Google search box.) This exchange between Dave Taylor and attorney Daniel Perry offered good advice on how to phrase it.

On other side note... if you think no one actually reads the comments posted to a blog, think again. Wall Street Journal reporter David Kesmodel, who wrote the article about Aaron Wall and Traffic-Power, was looking around for supporting quotes. Like the other 51% of journalists using blogs for research, he found lawyer and former judge Daniel Perry through a comment Perry left on Dave Taylor's blog. One thing led to another and Perry found himself being quoted in the WSJ a few days later. And he hasn't even launched his own blog, Weblawyer, yet! Dan, a blog with legal advice specifically for blogs is sorely needed. Start writing!

Useful Link

Electronic Frontier Foundation's Legal Guide for Bloggers


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Posted by Debbie Weil on September 12, 2005 in Corporate Blogging Guidelines , Legal Issues | Permalink


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Daniel Perry

The lawsuit against Mr. Wall does not specify exactly which posted comments or information are the subject of the lawsuit. However, the lawsuit is worded broadly enough to include even the posted remarks of Mr. Wall himself. Moreover, Mr. Wall responded to the comments posted by others and, in the process, either libelled the company himself or "fanned the flames" of the diatribe.

As I remarked in my comments on Dave Taylor's intuitive Life Business Blog, Mr. Wall unwisely responded to comments posted regarding the company in a tirade which questioned the company’s legitimacy and ethics. The responses are still posted on his website. They include:

• “If they are calling you it most likely means that they do not understand the concepts of reverse broadcast networks and they are no good at their job.” [Emphasis by Aaron]

• “Would you bet your financial future on a random telemarketer who knew nothing about marketing ...?”

• “I post my information based on the fact that they cold called me offering to sell their services to me for a site that is complete garbage that I would not work on if somebody wanted me to ... I use that site as a ‘catcher of fraudsters and hucksters’ and [company] called me. ... The fact that their site has been banned by the search engines speaks volumes for the [company]site ... I get my [company] information from my server logs and the fact that [company] called me to promote a horrible website.”

• “I am not a competitor so much as I do not like idiotic high pressure salesmen calling me to try to sell me shit services ... and since you called me personally to promote a bad site I know your services must suck.”

• In response to a posted comment that only other Search Engine Optimization companies are complaining about [company], Aaron replied: “Not true. From emails I have been sent I can tell you that many people complain about them. Are you not awake? Do you pay attention to the world around you? Look at this site: [company] Sucks. There is no commercial SEO relationship on [company] Sucks ... simply a site which states the facts as seen by an unhappy customer who did not get their money back.” [Emphasis by Aaron].

• In response to a posted question: “Why would another SEO company claim to have gotten screwed by them?”, Aaron replied: “The SEO companies are not the people getting screwed. It is all the random webmasters who get cold called and buy their services. [company] cold called me. I did not buy their services, thus I did not get screwed by [company].”

• “Why would anyone hire an SEO firm that can't even rank for their own name?” [Emphasis by Aaron].

• In response to a posted comment that when Google attacked them customers of [company] received rebates, Aaron replied: “Not true. The people at [company] Sucks did not get their money back.”

• “... I would need to shower at least 6 times a day if I worked for a company as dirty as [company].”

• “Since [company]'s site appears to be banned in Google any footprints leading to their site are probably a bad thing through the eyes of Google. Do they have a right to cry about lost traffic, considering all the traffic they had in the first place was obtained by devious means? You get what you pay for.”

• Aaron even directed the visitors to his blog to the company disparagement posted on another website:

“JUNE 05, 2004 - FUN SITES - Everyone should be able to laugh every once in a while. The last couple days I have been running into a few sites, so I figured it would only be fair to share ... Cool site #2 http://www.[company]sucks.com/ - citation: found this puppy in my server logs. apparently the site owner has a big thumbs down for the services [company] provides. the owner of that site may actually be more blunt than I am!!!”

Aaron should also never have subsequently posted that "There may be something worth suing for in the posts or comments. I am rather naive to the laws that govern such behavior."

Willfully blinding yourself to your legal obligations won't impress a judge. Bloggers should learn when they need to contact a lawyer. Bloggers don’t need to edit every post or alter the conversation. But they should moderate these comments with a view of how such language will look to a judge or jury.

Of course, Mr. Wall is entitled to voice his opinion. But he makes statements of alleged fact and engages in what can only be characterized as a smear campaign against an arguable competitor.

I have cautioned against placing much weight in the fact this lawsuit has been filed and of its eventual outcome. I believe that this is a unique case and does not represent the likely outcome of most responsible blogging. But it does point to the importance of planning how to respond to reasonable inquries by others (including lawyers) that the materials posted on YOUR blog may be inappropriate.

Debbie Weil


Thanks for the clarifications and further details (on how the blogger being sued fanned the flames with his own blog entries). Sounds like the WSJnl reporter didn't do his homework on this one. Eegads... hope that's not a slanderous remark! Let me know if it is...

Jeb Simons

I'm not sure what the hold-up is... maybe they have re-thought their stance on how this is going to actually make the company any money. Or perhaps their lawyers pointed out the liability of providing agents a platform to stick their feet in their mouth. Whatever it is, it's hardly something I'd claim as being "Well done".

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