Now, back to the show.
It seems like every couple of months, another blogger gets sued, or is threatened with a lawsuit, because of something they wrote in their blog. The most recent and hilarious example involves a blogger who had some interesting things to say about a former (veeeeeeery former) Playboy playmate. I won't weigh in on the exact issues presented, either in the blog in question or in the (theoretically upcoming) lawsuit. But I will say that bloggers need to have a decent, working understanding of libel and slander law here in the U. S. And so, in the spirit of helping my fellow Bloggers, I, CowboyLaw, hereby present this PRIMER ON LIBEL AND SLANDER LAW FOR BLOGGERS.
There are really only three things you need to remember about libel and slander law (which, for the sake of convenience, we'll just call defamation law): (1) only defame public figures; (2) make sure you have some basis for your defamation; and (3) the truth is always a defense. I will demonstrate each in turn.
1. Only defame public figures.
I can freely and openly state that President Bush recently murdered four children. This is not defamation (in part, for reasons I'll discuss below), and I won't get in trouble. However, if I was to say that my good friend Shaun Jackson is actually a crack man-ho, I would probably be committing defamation. Defamation is a statement about someone that is untrue and which damages their reputation. Obviously, both of the above statements count (more or less). However, people who are "public figures" like Bush get substantially less protection against defamatory statements. Why? Because we want the press to be free to criticize them without having to worry about constant defamation lawsuits (like they have in England). Public figure status isn't just limited to political figures, either. Thus, I can say things like "Tom Cruise finds the idea of sex with a man far more palatable than does Ann Coulter, who prefers the soft, yielding flesh of women," and fear no repercussion. Private people like Shaun Jackson, however, get a lot of protection.
2. Have a reasonable basis for what you say.
It's not enough just to pick on public figures. You also need to have some shred of evidence to back up your ludicrous claims. That should be no problem, because the internet will support almost any contention you want to make. Thus, for example, this website supports my comment above that Bush killed four children recently. As for Tom Cruise liking the taste of man-steak, Google turns up 2,780,000 webpages dedicated to talking about Tom's obvious preference for the hairier sex. My theory about Ann Coulter is strictly of my own devising, but c'mon: it's OBVIOUS this woman LOVES a good, New England clam bake. And this fact drives her insane homophobia (p.s., Google only reports 406,000 webpages which address the question of whether Ann Coulter frequently finds herself elbow-deep in another woman, probably because Ann Coulter is, amazingly, even more annoying than Tom Cruise). See, if you just go off spouting completely basis lies about a public figure (like, "Mr. Pennybags is a huge fan of glass plating), you can still get sued (and yes, I did just rip on the guy from Monopoly). So, have something to back up your outrageous statements.
3. Remember: if it's true, it's not defamatory.
I can call O. J. Simpson a killer all I want, and he can never (successfully) sue me. Why? Because even though a Los Angeles jury found there was not sufficient evidence to convict him of murder (mostly because the jury members had their heads shoved entirely up their own asses), another Los Angeles jury (in the civil lawsuit brought by Nicole Brown-Simpson's family) found that there was sufficient proof to satisfy them that O. J. killed Nicole (by the way, for those of you baffled, remember that the burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas the burden of proof in a civil case is 51% of the evidence supports it). True statements, no matter how damaging they are to the subject's reputation, are never defamatory. But, they're also not that entertaining. It's much more interesting to speculate about how many double-dongs Ann Coulter owns, and whether she and Tom Cruise have ever shared one.
Remember, boys and girls: this isn't legal advice, and I don't advise you to defame anyone. Rather, this is an amusing (mildly) and accurate (mildly) picture of the state of the law. If you want real advice, you need to hire me.