Claims of “Libel” pop up periodically on this and other sites. The original BVBL was driven underground as a result of a Libel lawsuit. Yet there is very little actual law defining what is and is not libelous language on a blog. Glen Reynolds, author of Instapundit.com, has written a brief article for the Washington Law Review describing the current state of the law and suggesting how courts ought to view claims of libel based on blog entries.
The article is not definitive, but it is scholarly and comprehensive. Page 3 has a brief discussion of libel claims involving public officials. I recommend that any of you who are interested in this issue download a copy, which is free.
However, I think Mr. Reynolds is missing an important point. Claims of libel on the internet are dangerous, not because they will be successful in court, but because they are scary. Most bloggers are individuals with some time to spare and something interesting to say (this second point is optional). Few have the resources to fight even a frivolous lawsuit. Fewer still want to. Threats of, or actual, libel cases have been used to frighten bloggers into silence, not because they are likely to succeed legally, but because it is too expensive to respond to them in defense of what most people see as a hobby.
I think Mr. Reynolds’ article is too optimistic about the chances that a libel suit against a blogger will succeed. If the goal is silence, rather than money, libel claims against bloggers work far too often.
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