• August 24, 2009

    No Right to Slander Via Blogs

    An interesting case which wound its way through the courts earlier this year answered any lingering questions Blog writers might have had on their "right" to anonymously slander and defame others. The case was made public in January 2009 when Canadian born fashion model Liskula Cohen filed suit against Google to compel the company to give up the name of the owner of the "Skanks of New York" blog. Published on Google owned blogging platform Blogger, the "Skanks of New York" blog (since removed by Google) consisted of five entries, each of which took shots at Cohen. The entries were all posted August 21, 2008. In a precedent setting US court decision outlined last week, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden ruled that Cohen has the right to sue the blogger for defamation and that Google was to immediately reveal the name of the blogger to Cohen's lawyers. They did and the name of the offending blogger, Rosemary Port, is now public knowledge. The decision removed any lingering comfort bloggers might have in the sense of anonymity on the Internet. As of last week, there is none and bloggers are on notice that they can be held responsible for their writing should it be deemed defamatory or libelous. The decision should also serve to stem the tide of nastiness found throughout much of the blogosphere. It might also have a rebound effect of opening the door to others who feel they too have been unfairly libeled in blog posts. In this case, the offending blogger might only be punished by public embarrassment. After learning that Port was the blogger, Cohen decided to stop a pending $3million lawsuit against her saying through her lawyer,

    "What this blogger did ought not to be condoned or forgiven. But my client is walking away from it," the lawyer said. "She's said, 'It adds nothing to my life to hurt hers.' Liskula has offered her forgiveness"
    Port is apparently not so forgiving... Port is now suing Google for $15million for revealing her identity to Cohen's lawyers. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Port is quoted saying,
    "When I was being defended by attorneys for Google, I thought my right to privacy was being protected. But that right fell through the cracks. Without any warning, I was put on a silver platter for the press to attack me. I would think that a multi-billion dollar conglomerate would protect the rights of all its users."
    Port's lawyer goes on to say she is filing suit against Google for breaching its, "... fiduciary duty to protect her expectation of anonymity." It will be interesting to see how far Port's case against Google goes. Google was following a court order issued by the Manhattan Supreme Court when it revealed Port's name to Cohen. Given that Blogger is a free service, it is difficult to see how Google bears a fiduciary responsibility to Port, especially as her blog was not established as a commercial venture. To sum it up (as it stands now):
  • Aug 21, 2008: Post posted a series of nasty entries about model Liskula Cohen that were found to be actionable by the court.
  • January 2009: Cohen files suit against Google demanding the firm release the name of the owner of the "Skanks of NYC" blog.
  • August 2009: Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden rules that Cohen is entitled to sue the blogger and that Google must reveal the person's identity to Cohen's lawyers.
  • August 2009: Cohen announces she is dropping her plans to file suit against Post after Post's name is revealed.
  • August 2009: Post announces she is suing Google for $15million for failing in its, "... fiduciary duty to protect her expectation of anonymity."

    It will be interesting to see how the courts deal with Post's case however bloggers be warned... Blogging does not extend privileges of anonymity beyond the First Amendment. The ruling suggests bloggers treat each post as if it were being published in a newspaper with a credible and accurate byline.