Saturday, March 8, 2008

Defamation on the Internet: Roy Holmgren Sues Murrieta Blog & Anonymous Posters

Bloggers beware: the normal legal protections from libel and defamation of character may be coming to the Wild, Wild, Wild West of the Internet. Roy Holmgren of Murrieta, CA is tired of anonymous attacks saying that he "is a stalker, that he is married to an illegal alien, that he has committed crimes that destroyed property, illegally gained credit report information, vandalized a blogger's sport utility vehicle, and that he begs for money on the side of the road.

One blogger called Holmgren "a danger to this community" and wrote that he has mental and emotional problems he can't control, according to the lawsuit."

The primary clash: a face-off between the right to freedom of expression and the right to be protected from slander, libel, and defamation of character. How much control should anonymous posters, who don't present facts, have over our lives?

Holmgren's attorney, Richard Ackerman, says that the lawsuit, filed against unknown persons, is "a novel legal issue."

This show-down is especially provocative to the Peanut crew because our small town is deep into a bitter, mud-slinging, mud-rasslin', name-callin' power struggle between the secretive "old guard" clique and the rebellious movers and shakers who want to shake things up.

This issue stretches from internet to print, and vice-versa. Our local newspaper (AKA, to some, the propaganda machine), provides a feature for people who want to say something anonymously. Anyone can call in and say whatever they like about current issues.

Those comments are then typed and published in the newspaper--although they are not only edited for profanity, but, many suspect, edited to block some comments. The newspaper, an internet novice, is now allowing posts from its website, although it's not yet clear if those posts will make it into the print version.

Question: if someone calls in a real down-and-dirty comment and that comment is published not only in the print version of the newspaper, but also on the website, has the newspaper colluded in defamation of character? Or, where is the line between opinion and anonymous slander/libel/defamation of character?

We may find out in California.

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