The Internet can seem like an open forum for people to rant and rave. But more and more, individuals are being held to account for what they write. A Chicago realty company sued a tenant this summer for $50,000 after she wrote online that her apartment was moldy. Another blogger was ordered to pay $1.8 million after calling someone a “failed lawyer.” A suit filed by a chiropractor who received a negative review online was settled out of court.
Many of us rely on Web reviews for honest feedback about everything from restaurants to electronics to doctors. But when does opinion cross the line into libel?
“People have the right to free speech,” explains Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which defends digital rights. “But they’ve never had the right to defame someone. They still don’t.” The general rule is that you can be held responsible for spreading false statements that hurt someone’s reputation, whether you post them online, publish them in a newspaper, or whisper them at a cocktail party. If you want to write a negative review online, your best bet is to stick to the facts of your experience without drawing conclusions about a person’s character. “If you say you didn’t like someone, that’s fine,” says David Miranda, an intellectual property attorney. If you say you think he’s an embezzler and he’s not, you’ve gone too far.”
— Rebecca Webber
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Be Careful Out There!
Online Comments Spark Lawsuits
Posted by caryl at 11:18 AM