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May, 2010:

The Legal Side of Blogging – Part 1 of 4: Can My Blog Get Me Sued?

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I am a law student. In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice. It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

First Amendment
Image by NomadicEntrepreneur via Flickr

Thanks to the First Amendment, we have the right of free speech in the United States. There are limits on free speech  regarding the time, place, and manner of the speech which is why we can’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. The First Amendment also doesn’t protect obscenity or libel.

Speech on the internet is generally protected, including anonymous speech. I don’t understand why people want to speak anonymously in this public forum, but the law protects it.

Americans are very quick to sue people they don’t like, so the real question is, can I be sued and lose because of my blog? A quick search on the database and Google has revealed that bloggers have been successfully sued for their blogs.

Defamation and Libel
Based on case law I read, a blogger can be sued for defamation and libel if they use their blog to make false statements about a public figure. The courts seem to apply a broad definition to “public figure.” If the public figure the blogger talks about in their blog can show that the blogger made a false statement about them and that the statement was made with “actual malice,” then they have a valid claim for defamation and libel.

Conversely, a blogger’s personal opinion is protected by the First Amendment. It’s only when they are making statements of fact or a combination of fact and opinion that they have to be concerned that they could be sued if they are publishing false statements.

Copyright Infringement
A person gets a copyright if they create an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium. They don’t have to register their work in any database; they just have to create it. Therefore, bloggers should own the copyright for all their posts, unless they previously gave up their copyright rights to someone else. If a blogger posts someone else’s material and claims it as their own, that’s copyright infringement. Writing about the same ideas is ok; stealing someone’s verbiage is not.

I don’t know why anyone would do this – isn’t the purpose of having a blog to express your own views and ideas? I suspect few bloggers are policing the internet looking for people infringing on their work and most aren’t equipped with the resources to file a claim against another blogger for stealing their work. I’m fine with people stealing my verbiage for their blog as long as they include a link back to this site. My guess is most bloggers are equally fine with others quoting them as long as they get the attribution.

You Can Be Sued for Your Comments – Not Sure If You Can Lose
Aaron Wall was sued by Traffic-Power.com when negative comments about the company appeared on Wall’s website, SEOBook.com. Wall opted to remove the comments about Traffic Power instead of spending his time, energy, and money to fight the lawsuit.

I don’t know what the comments about Traffic Power said, but it makes me wonder if other companies will threaten lawsuits against bloggers to remove negative comments about themselves online. Most bloggers probably won’t want to go through the time and hassle of fighting the suit, even when the comments might be protected by the First Amendment. Even if there wasn’t a valid case in this situation, it should serve as a reminder that bloggers are responsible for the comments they allow to be posted on their sites.

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New Adventure – New Bike

As part of my goal of being more active this summer, I bought a bike last week.  Debbie at Tempe Bicycle was wonderful with me.  When I walked into the shop and she asked what kind of bike I was looking for, I said, “Simple.”  I haven’t owned a bike in about fifteen years.  I just wanted something that I could easily ride to the store, the farmer’s market, the library, and along the canal.

Critical Mass SF July
Image by judemat via Flickr

We started with a “cruiser” bike.  It was cute, but riding it made me feel like Miss Gulch from the Wizard of Oz.  The handlebars were too wide set for my petite frame.  When I walked into the store, I didn’t think the brake style mattered, but I soon realized that hand brakes were a necessity.

The next bike I tried was a 21-speed mountain bike.  When she first showed it to me, I thought, “What do I need 21  speeds for?”  It was a good bike, but too fancy for me needs.

Then Debbie’s eyes lit up and said, “I’ve got the bike for you” and she rolled out another mountain bike.  It reminded me of Say Yes to the Dress when the consultant has an epiphany about what dress would be perfect for her bride.  It was a white 7-speed Haro Heartland bike, with a wide cushy seat for my bony butt.  I took it for a ride around the parking lot and I was in heaven.  When I came back into the shop Debbie asked what I thought, and I said, “I never thought I’d fall in love with a white bike.”  For some reason, I predicted my bike would be purple.

Tempe Bicycle and Debbie made sure I had everything I needed in terms of a good lock, wiring my seat to my frame so it can’t be easily stolen, a cord to lock my front tire to the back tire, and a good helmet.  I know drivers in Phoenix don’t see runners and rollerbladers.  I don’t expect them to notice me on my bike.

I’ve been on two bike rides so far – one to the store and one to church – almost 20 miles in all.  I’ve noticed that riding makes me feel like I’m more connected to my community and neighborhood.  Instead of being in my enclosed, music-filled car, I get to see, feel, hear, and smell my surroundings.  I notice the little things like whether a property owner keeps their vegetation cut back so it’s not encroaching on the sidewalk (note to owners: please trim your plants), what A-frame signs are in my path announcing yard sales, and what streets have a designated bike lane (thank you 15th Ave.).

I hope my bike becomes a primary mode of transportation for me.  Besides making me feel like I’m doing something good for myself physically, I’ve experienced an unexpected sensation of freedom when I’m riding.  I feel like it’s my break from the rat race and a respite from my cell phone and laptop.

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Americans = People Who Don’t Move

I have a huge pet peeve about Americans – we have become a society of people who don’t move!   I’m talking about people who are perpetually sedentary.  It really bothers me to see people getting winded from walking across a parking lot.

Everything that's wrong with America
Image by msmail via Flickr

As a country, we have huge obesity problem.  It’s one thing to have a medical condition or to be on medication that result in weight gain, but another situation when people are eating way more than they need and then never moving to the point where they become incapable of doing it.

I get really sad when I see this in children.  My cousin took dance classes since she was little and I used to go to the big  recital in the spring that featured every level from the toddlers to the advanced teens.  One year I saw a four year-old who could barely skip because she was so chubby.  You could see every hop for her was an effort.  I wanted to find her parents and ask, “What are you doing to your child?”

We didn’t used to be this way.  I think a big part of this problem is the fact that modern conveniences have allowed too many of us to adopt a lifestyle where we never need to leave the couch.  Instead of washing, chopping, and cooking food, we have microwave meals or order in.  Instead of sweeping or vacuuming the floor, we have the Roomba do it for us.  Instead of playing outside, our kids play video games.  We used to have to at least walk through the mall to go shopping, but now we can buy everything we want online.

I remember as a kid, our Saturday morning family tradition was walking to the park to play.  It was simple and fun.  I think a lot of people have forgotten how much fun these simple things are.

Without having to go more than five blocks from my house, I can buy groceries, go to the pharmacy, get fast food, eat at a real restaurant, bank, mail something, have my clothes dry cleaned, rent a movie, buy running shoes, and visit a park.  It’s a little eerie when I walk to do my errands and I hardly see anyone else on the sidewalks.  This summer, I’ve made a commitment to myself that if I have to go to any of these places, unless I need the cargo space of my car, I’m walking or skating there.

My end-of-the semester gift to myself is going to be a bike.  My hope is to ride to anywhere that I want to go within five miles of my house, if not seven miles, and where it’s ok to arrive sweaty.  Did I mention that I live in Arizona?  I plan to carry a fresh t-shirt and a stick of deodorant in my Camelbak.  Please feel free to send me sunscreen because I hate having tan lines.

This proved to me that no one who lives near me uses the sidewalks.  I live near the Arizona Canal – one of the man-made waterways that bring water from the Colorado River to sustain central and southern Arizona.  Many ducks live along the canal and there’s a wonderful path for running and cycling that’s separate from the roadways.  There are tons of places for ducks to make their nests, yet the other day I found a pair of ducks nesting under a fallen construction sign that was only six feet away from the sidewalk and major Phoenix street.  I figured the volume of foot traffic was so low that it seemed like a safe place to start their family.

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Learning From The Best – Professors’ Quotes 2009-2010

I like professors who are engaging, who are entertaining, and whose lectures are dripping with sarcasm.  It actually facilitates the learning process because what they say is so striking that I can’t forget it.

I have a document on my laptop dedicated to quotes from professors I’ve had for the last two years.  Since I’m starting finals this week, it seemed appropriate to share some of the best ones.

Professors’ Take On How The Law Works:

  • The law has lots of ways to screw you over.
  • This entire statute is geared toward dumb people.
  • There are lots of statutes that cause the crazy.
  • Your job as lawyers is to be as clever and deceptive as possible.
  • Courts come up with sub-optimal interpretations all the time.
  • Agencies are federal beasties.
  • We want people to hit people in the mouth now and again.
  • Child molesters get sad when everyone is told they’re in town.
  • You can’t sue yourself unless you agree with yourself that you can sue yourself.
  • Magic words matter.
  • Compromise results in constant mediocrity.
  • Most of law is totally flawed.  Just go with it.

Professors’ View On Teaching:

  • Did anyone read the case?  I didn’t.
  • Who else wants me to point at them and say “No?”
  • I wanted to prove I’m smarter.
  • The point is you’re all wrong.
  • I’m going to keep insulting everyone for no good reason.

These Have Almost Nothing To Do With The Law But They’re Funny:

  • Does anyone know who Oscar Wilde is?  He was a drunk.
  • I think of myself as a playboy . . . a bit of a dandy you might say.

Hypos I Will Never Forget:

  • If the potential harm is you’re dead, then we generally don’t wait until that happens to allow you to sue for damages.
  • What if I sell you one piece of bubblegum with a little bit of arsenic in it?  What’s the problem there?
  • If you get run over by the mailman, you have no recourse.  You have to just lie there with your broken leg.
  • Eating dead baby type stuff . . . you can always come up with a situation where that’s OK.
  • When someone cuts off your face, you don’t get your face back. You get money. It’s a substitute . . . I have to change the movies I watch.

Thank you all for being effective teachers and making class entertaining.  The world needs more professors like you.  I wouldn’t know as much as I do if it weren’t for these verbal gems.