Link to Another Blog That Allows Its Users To Post Libelous Comments – Get Sued Yourself!

When Jessamyn West was here for SLA, this topic came up at the after-event gathering.  I meant to post something about it at that time when the story was still somewhat fresh but never got to it, being as busy as I was with much more important matters like cute baby pictures and Flash-based Friday Fun Links.

A recent invite to the annual Sask Blogs summer picnic reminded me of the fact that the Sask Blogs Aggregator, a site which creates a rolling summary of posts from various Saskatchewan-based and Saskatchewan-themed blogs, is still down.

But I'm getting ahead of myself…

In mid-April, a right-wing, Sask-based blog named “Small Dead Animals” posted a link to another conservative site named FreeDominion that had posted a story about Canadian civil rights lawyer, Richard Warman.  As with most blogs, FreeDominion accepts comments.  Warman saw these and made the claim that the comments were defamatory.  He sued but in a unique twist, he didn't just name FreeDominion (which allowed the comments) but also sites that linked to the FreeDominion story such as Small Dead Animals (and therefore, were re-publishing these comments indirectly in his view.) 

Although the case was still in the works and linking to a third-party site that may contain libelous or defamatory material hadn't yet been defined as legal or illegal by a court, the Sask Blogs aggregator shut down their service completely out of concern that a similar charge could be leveled against them – either for linking to Small Dead Animals or to any of the other dozens of blogs that who were part of their feed and which may contain similar borderline comments which could be actionable. 

Here's a summary from the Regina Leader-Post of the whole situation.

I gotta say, I'm with the right winger on this and think that the civil rights lawyer is stretching too way far.  If FreeDominion libeled you or allowed you to be libeled, that's one thing.  But suing every single site that links to the story (or links to a site that links to the story – hey, I just realised, because of all the links I've thrown out to the various sites involved in this case, I'm implicated now too!  In fact, because of the interconnected nature of the Internet, every possible site that includes links to other sites is guilty as well!  Oh-oh – do you know what that means?  That's it – shut down the Internet – it's over.  Links are no longer allowed! )

Okay, kidding aside, does anyone see the irony in a civil rights lawyer being responsible for an action that's stifled freedom of speech and sharing of information, not only in the original offending site but for numerous harmless bystanders?  To me, this is sort of like the copyright issue where someone is trying to apply old-world views of how things work now to a new world.  In the old days, yeah, if someone else repeated a libelous statement, they were responsible.  But in the Internet age, where a link is a click away, a statement can go out to a million people as easily as to a dozen, the old paradigms simply don't work anymore.  “The genie is out of the bottle” is a phrase I think of all the time in situations like this.  Warman is trying to corral the spread of whatever libelous statements were made but somewhere, someone is going to be able to access them.  That's the new world and we all have to accept that. 

At any rate, the Sask Blogs aggregator was a great, volunteer service that I miss a lot.  I tend to read blogs that are in my narrow areas of interest or written by people I know so Sask Blogs was a simple way for me to get an overview of what people were writing about across the province – from all viewpoints, all writing styles, all geographic locations, all manner of topics from personal to political and everything in between. 

Hopefully this case will be resolved and Sask Blogs will be back soon.

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