Those in the “old” media, more than a little familiar with the intricacies of libel and slander law, knew it was bound to happen. A blogger has been sued for libel in Kane County’s 16th Circuit Court.
Despite the apparent belief that those using the Internet can say anything without consequence, those with more experience knew individuals would tolerate the besmirching of their names and reputations for only so long before putting up a fight.
A court reporting firm, BESCR Inc., with offices in Aurora and Chicago, sued Trisha Goodman, a Tulsa, Okla., court reporter subcontracted by the firm. She had started a blog to complain she hadn’t been paid the $2,300 due her from BESCR Inc. Three others were sued for telling other people about the blog. The suit asks for $3.4 million in damages.
Goodman says she started the blog to help her determine if others had similar problems to those she says she’s had with BESCR. BESCR owners Elizabeth Eastwood and Steven Artstein said they fell behind in payments because of new billing software and that their business has been harmed by Goodman’s blog.
Where the case will lead, of course, is an open question. The crux of any libel action is “what is true,” something the court will have to determine. But the lawsuit nonetheless serves as a good reminder that there might be some merit in an established media that checks out the facts of a story before publication, especially if it might impugn someone’s integrity. It does so because the law says it must.
Bloggers and IMers and e-mailers may believe they are exempt, but it’s doubtful the courts will see it that way when those doing the writing are challenged by someone they write about. That’s especially so because unfounded claims and accusations can be spread globally in minutes on the Web, making it all but impossible to undo damage.
BESCR may have gone too far in suing someone as detached from the action as a court reporter from Schaumburg, Joan Burke, because she told others of the blog. She says she was forwarded a link to the blog from a business associate.
“I never added to (the blog) or responded to it, just viewed it,” she said. “As far as I know in Illinois, there’s nothing illegal about forwarding a link.”
One wouldn’t think so, but then the Wild West, which the Internet quite resembles today, didn’t stay wild forever. It eventually came to play by the same rules as other, less wild parts of the country.
It’s just as likely that the Internet will eventually have to play by the same economic rules, and the rules that protect individuals from harm by others.
A thought to keep in mind before hitting the send button or posting to that blog.