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Writing Right: Risks to Freedom of Speech Online 

 

It’s getting dangerous to speak your mind online. In a time when wikis and blogs are growing at a tremendous rate, anyone can be a reporter, an editor and a publisher. The power of the printing press has been distributed to the masses. 

Law.com says there are around 30 million blogs in the United States. Fifty-seven million Americans read blogs each day, according to the Pew Research Center.

 

Not surprisingly, lawsuits against bloggers are getting more common. Pontificating on the Internet comes with certain risks, risks that bloggers must be aware of.

 

The most common lawsuits involve libel, slander, defamation of character and plaigarism. In many cases, bloggers are held to the same standards as print publications within their own state.

 

According to the Media Law Resource Center, there have been close to 75 lawsuits against bloggers in the United States alone.  

More often than not, bloggers alter or remove offensive material from their sites to avoid litigation. This way, legal threats, of which there are hundreds a day, seldom make it to court.

 

Luke Ford is one of the most notorious defendants in cyberspace. He estimates the combined cost of his lawsuits at about $300,000, although much of this was covered by pro bono representation.

 

“If there’s been a blogger that’s been more sued than him, I’d be very surprised,” said Justin Levine, Ford’s lawyer.

 

Ford has been sued five times, all in reaction to his former site, Lukeford.com, with chronicled breaking news, grossip and trends of the porn industry.

 

His first lawsuit was brought in September of 1999 by actress Christy Lake. Ford featured a photograph on his site of a woman resembling Lake having sex with a dog. The caption read “This looks just like Christy Lake.” The case was settled out of court.

 

Other bloggers have been sued for maligning companies and violating copyright laws.

 

When asked what bloggers should be most cautious of, Levine said, “criticizing individuals and companies with thin skin and a lot of resources.”   

 

Here’s what WE know, but we’d like to know what YOU know. Please help us add to this story by contrbuting facts and experiences. You’re welcome to edit and make the story the best you think it can be. It goes up on NYC24.com on Friday, March 9. If you'd like, please leave your name and contact information so we can ask you about the experience. If you have any questions or problems, feel free to contact Alexis Matsui (925) 787-6367 or Anna-Katarina Gravgaard (347) 570-6618. Thank you for participating!

 

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