Monday, December 20, 2004

Legal issues for bloggers

I have just finished catching up on some reading from the Digital Revolution conference held here in October, and I wanted to point out a paper I think every blogger should read.

Blogs Without Borders: What you don't know about global jurisdiction could hurt you by Robert Frank and Brian Carroll at Berry College is an understandable, comprehensive look at several key international cases, including Gutnick v. Dow Jones & Co., that suggests the legal landscape could be potentially treacherous. Unfortunately, all that's available digitally from the conference is an extended abstract (there is a real fear among academics that publishing on the Web will negate any chance to publish in a peer-reviewed journal). However, it gives you a good sense of what the paper is about, and maybe an e-mail to Frank or Berry might pry a copy loose.

Bottom line: In many countries, the current cause of action is not where the material is published, but where it is read. Now, this might not affect you if you don't have assets overseas, but it could put a crimp in your travel plans -- you'd have to stay away from the country or countries in which you are sued.

One of their key contributions is a legal taxonomy of countries into libertarian, common law, civil code, developing and authoritarian. The United States falls into the libertarian column. The authors conclude that the common law and civil code countries (i.e., much of Europe and the areas once part of the British Empire) pose the greatest danger (as Dow Jones found out; the version of the paper I have was written before DJ settled with Gutnick). The developing countries could be dangerous, but Frank and Berry conclude that for now those countries do not have the resources to pursue such cases.

Frank and Berry also review some possible solutions, none of which seems likely for now.

This is a highly readable paper that will give you a lot of good information and a lot to think about.


At 12/21/04, 10:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug, I also thought this was a very good presentation from the conference. You can see some of my extemporaneous notes here:

I'm also aware of the trepidation about publishing on the Web, as I did a survey this semester with Kim Smith about bloggers and ethics, promising the bloggers that I'd send them some results once the project was finished. Now that we are hoping to present the findings at a conference, I'm wary of giving out all the results to the bloggers.

What struck me about Frank and Carroll's presentation was the comment they made about how we should appreciate the First Amendment, because no one else has a First Amendment. As one Australian judge said, "Australia doesn't share the U.S. obsession with free speech." More's the pity, I say.

Bryan Murley


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