Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Freedom of the Press Also Includes Bloggers - Doesn't It?

Image of The Trial of John Peter Zenger from courts.state.ny

My July 18th post concerning a proposed Roosevelt Island waterfront development project at Southpoint Park by developer Stephen Jemal of SSJ Development linked to a post by Brooklyn Blogger Gerritsen Beach that described, among other things, a lawsuit brought against the developer. According to Curbed, the developer's attorneys sent a letter to blogger Gerritsen Beach:
demanding the post be pulled down, that blogs linking to it remove it and that the blogger sign a "non-disparagement agreement." It also requests $20,000 for legal fees and to "act as additional consideration to induce him not to file suit." Also, someone believed to be "close" to the developer's firm allegedly launched a Denial of Service attack on the website.
In my opinion, the threat of a lawsuit against blogger Gerritsen Beach is a shameful act of intimidation that threatens this new media outlet of citizen journalists and local neighborhood bloggers. As stated by Gowanus Lounge:
The lawsuit threat hasn’t been settled yet, but the intended chilling effect of threatening a small, non-profit blog with a costly lawsuit is clear. The threat is the same whether it comes from a local online community miffed that emails circulating publicly are being quoted without “permission” and are “illegal” or whether they are from a developer who demands $20,000 to avoid a lawsuit or to induce someone to sign a “non-disparagement agreement.” In either case, a blogger could face a fortune in legal bills to fight off someone with deep pockets who wishes to prove a point.

... The problem is compounded by the fact that bloggers don’t have access to a team of lawyers that reporters do, that many don’t come from a journalism background and can be easily intimidated by bogus claims of liable, slander or copyright violations. It highlights the need for internet groups or a new organization to step to the plate and offer legal advice and counsel to bloggers who are often operating as journalists with none of the institutional protections.
I hope that I never need them but the Electronic Frontier Foundation is a great resource for bloggers providing a:
basic roadmap to the legal issues you may confront as a blogger, to let you know you have rights, and to encourage you to blog freely with the knowledge that your legitimate speech is protected.
as is the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse which:
aims to help you understand the protections that the First Amendment and intellectual property laws give to your online activities. We are excited about the new opportunities the Internet offers individuals to express their views, parody politicians, celebrate their favorite movie stars, or criticize businesses. But we've noticed that not everyone feels the same way. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some individuals and corporations are using intellectual property and other laws to silence other online users. Chilling Effects encourages respect for intellectual property law, while frowning on its misuse to "chill" legitimate activity.
Here is more information about this particular incident from bloggers Gerritsen Beach and Sheepshead Bites.

Also, the NY Times had a related article about the Bronx District Attorney issuing a subpoena and gag order on the blog site Room 8.
A grand jury subpoena sent by prosecutors in the Bronx earlier this year sought information to help identify people blogging anonymously on a Web site about New York politics called Room 8.

The subpoena carried a warning in capital letters that disclosing its very existence “could impede the investigation being conducted and thereby interfere with law enforcement” — implying that if the bloggers blabbed, they could be prosecuted.


Anonymous said...

It's amazing how free speech is constantly attempted to be squashed. Keep up the great work!