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article imageGoogle Lawsuit Loss Shows Slippery Slope of Blogging

By Carol Forsloff     Aug 22, 2009 in Lifestyle
Should bloggers have insurance? They might consider it, although it’s expensive if a company offers coverage. That’s because people can sue Internet titans and bloggers as well. Recently Google lost a lawsuit that raises privacy concerns.
Bitten Bound, a media source covering celebrity stuff, reports on a case regarding Vogue model Liskula Cohen who became outraged at the remarks of an anonymous blogger. Cohen maintained she had been defamed by the blogger who posted photos of her, along with derogatory comments. The blog was entitled “Skanks in NYC.”
In rendering a decision against Google and requiring the Internet industry giant to reveal the blogger’s identity, Judge Madden who rendered the decision in the case declared, “The protection of the right to communicate anonymously must be balanced against the need to assure that those persons who choose to abuse the opportunities presented by this medium can be made to answer for such transgressions.”
The Seattle Post Intelligencer examines the “Skank Case” as it is now famously called, maintaining how privacy groups will likely be especially concerned about a precedent set by this case. The court had ordered Google to identify the blogger who had made what was alleged to be defamatory comments. The issue of defamation wasn’t ruled on, but the blogger’s service responsibility was examined instead.
Within a day or so after the announcement of the “Skank Case” decision about Google, according to New York’s Daily Intel, Liskula decided to forgive and forget that anonymous blogger whose identity she got as a result of the lawsuit. It turned out to be someone she knew quite well, 29-year-old Rosemary Port. Port apparently had been angry over something she believed Cohen told Port’s boyfriend. So Port retaliated with a blog entry.
After the Google verdict and Cohen’s filing of a $3 million lawsuit for “defamation in the form of libel and intentional emotional distress,” Cohen changed her mind and advised her attorney to drop the lawsuit against Port. Later in an interview with Post’s Andrea Peyster Cohen lit a cigarette, hiding it from the photographer lens, while exclaiming her “grandma wouldn’t like it” as Peyser wrote down the quote. Intel reports an angry outburst from Cohen about the cigarette issue, the newspaper maintains leaves people wondering what really happened in the case involving Cohen and Port. Despite the complexities of this case, however, there have been other cases that raise concerns about some of the same issues of privacy and freedom of speech issues..
Three years USA Today reported a Florida jury awarded a woman $11.3 million in a defamation lawsuit against a Louisiana woman. Carey Bock was found guilty of posting messages on the Internet accusing Sue Scheff of being a "crook," a "con artist" and a "fraud." Scheff declared she had pursued the lawsuit even though she knew Bock didn’t have any money because, "People are using the Internet to destroy people they don't like, and you can't do that."
Another case was Stratton Oakmont vs. Prodigy (1995)where someone posted an accusation about Daniel Porush, the President of Stratton Oakmont, that Porush was “soon to be proven criminal” and that the company itself was a “cult of brokers who either lie for a living or get fired.” Porush, through his company, argued that the fact Prodigy had editorial control over content it could be classified as a publisher and thereafter had responsibility to filter material that was defamatory. The court awarded damages to Stratton Oakmont against Prodigy.
Just weeks ago, the Huffington Post and others wrote about how Sarah Palin, through her attorney, threatened to serve papers on a blogger, accusing the blogger of defamation for posting material about Sarah Palin’s marriage and a possible divorce. A number of writers throughout the Internet world pounced on the blogger’s story and spread it, bringing consternation and concern to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. This incident revealed that whether left or right of the political spectrum, even the politicians are considering lawsuits to stop what they consider verbal abuse over the Internet.
Are all cases pursued like this given a judgment for the plaintiff? A review of court cases by Stanford University online reveals some plaintiffs lose, and the cases themselves sometimes have underlying issues that may not be known by the public at the outset when the case is first filed. On the other hand, the cases do present questions, and concerned experts say the cases might make a difference in the use of the Internet, since they underline the seriousness of posting defamatory material, even if it is done anonymously. The cases also reveal issues of consistency and the fact that responsibility and blame are yet a part of the controversy over what one can or cannot write about others.
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