Can you sue for a mean blog comment?

Welcome to Legal Musings where I try to blog about something going on in the legal world.  Often the topic will include writing, copyright..etc.  Sometimes it won’t.

As the internet has exploded with millions of blogs and people who comment…the question arises as to whether or not you can sue someone for a comment hurting your feelings, or worse, damaging your reputation. 

The quick answer is…it depends.  Yeah.  Welcome to the law. 

Interestingly enough, the The Federalist Papers, penned by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, were published under the pseudonym “Publius.”  So even way back when, critics were anonymous.

So, there’s an interesting case in federal court where one guy (Max)  wrote about another guy’s (Dimeo) event party…and then other people ripped the party apart, basically saying the party sucked.  Several of the comments were anonymous.  So, Dimeo sued Max for defamation, citing those anonymous comments by other people.  The court didn’t buy it.  Dimeo lost on the defamation claim because, well, Max is like Google.  Yeah, Google. 

Interestingly enough, the court used the same analysis with Max as it did with the large GOOGLE case I cited a few weeks back. (Parker v. Google).   Max is like Google???  Well, under a CDA (Communications Decency Act) analysis, Max is like Google and thus gets immunity.

Three elements are required for § 230(c)(1) immunity. First, the defendant must be a provider or user of an “interactive computer service.” Second, the asserted claims must treat the defendant as a publisher or speaker of information. Third, the challenged communication must be “information provided by another information content provider.  (The commenters).  Dimeo v Max, 433 F.Supp.2d 523 (E.D.Pa.,2006).

So, at least in the federal district court in PA, Max (and thus any of us with a website) has the same immunity as Google when it comes to third party comments.  Wozza.

I thought this was an interesting way for the court to finish its opinion.

“Some of the dialogue on the Internet surely tests the limits of conventional discourse. Speech on the Internet can be unfiltered, unpolished, and unconventional, even emotionally charged, sexually explicit, and vulgar-in a word, “indecent” in many communities. But we should expect such speech to occur in a medium in which citizens from all walks of life have a voice.”  Dimeo at 533.

So, keep in mind this is one federal district court opinion only.  There are many other jurisdictions, and this case didn’t go up to the appellate or supreme court. 

When I get some time, I’d like to delve into the CDA, considering some of it (not any of the parts cited above) have been found unconstitutional.  For now, let’s be nice as commenters.  While our words MAY not be actionable, there are still several federal laws dealing with harassment we really don’t want to mess with.  I’ll go into a few of those at a later date. 

DISCLAIMER:  So, I’ve been getting more comments about my disclaimer than the blog entries.  🙂  No, the mermaid isn’t naked.  Yes, she has a shield and sword because the law is both a shield and a sword.  In a disclaimer, it’s a shield.  A big one that I’ll hit you over the head with if you take anything I say as legal advice.  Yeah, I’m being accurate.  But I’m not your lawyer.  This is not intended to be legal advice.  You may not rely on any of it (except me hitting you with the shield) as legal advice.  For the love of Pete – there are tons of starving lawyers out there.  Go hire one if you need one.  🙂

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8 Responses to Can you sue for a mean blog comment?

  1. crbwrites says:

    Rebecca, I truly appreciate the niche you’ve discovered for your blog. No, not legal advice–but a good starting resource for writers who wonder how the law affects us!

  2. Lisa Kessler says:

    Interesting blog Rebecca!!! 🙂

    And I love the disclaimer mermaid! LOL

    Nice to know I can’t get sued for people who comment on my blogs! Yow! 😀

    Luckily my blog readers are all pretty nice people so no flame wars…. Shew!

    Lisa

  3. Hmm…whenever sending ANYTHING out into cyber-space – be it a blog post OR a comment, I always abide by a very old saying: You can’t unring a bell. Image is everything in just about any aspect of life. Building a “good” one is like tending a delicate flower and it only takes one bumbled misstep to grind it into the ground. I hope I never irritate anyone enough to get sued – and I hope I never find myself the target of a smear campaign. Make’s ya kinda want to “peek” all around before you venture out into the void!

  4. I can get a little off color, but I try to stick to would I say it in public. For those that know me, know that my filter is broken. I love the internet because there is a backspace key. It’s the perfect filter for the things that bounce around in my head. Great post!

  5. Mary Abshire says:

    very interesting post. And I love the disclaimer! That’s great!!

  6. I think I’d probably remove any comments from my blog that seemed potentially objectionable for practical grounds, not legal ones. My blog is in some ways an extension of my personal space. Even if I didn’t say the words, by leaving them there I’m giving them a transmission vehicle, and exposing my visitors to them. The visitor they offend might be the editor I’m submitting something to next week, and I don’t want to be remembered badly for something someone else said which has become indirectly associated with me because they said it on my site.

    As the saying goes, freedom of speech belongs to the guy who owns the press. On the internet, that can be all of us, given the number of free blogging sites, so if I curtail a discussion on mine, the person always has the opportunity to start their very own blog where they can rant a happy length.

    Civil and reasoned disagreement is fine. As soon as it becomes personal, instead of about ideas, go find your own soapbox.

  7. Lee says:

    There’s no particular season for good taste… it’s a fine line, as you point out. Thanks.

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