May 3, 2006

Blogger gets sued for defamation

Lance Dutson, a Maine-based blogger, is being sued by Warren Kramer Paino Advertising (WKPA) for “copyright infringement, defamation and trade libel and injurious falsehood” based on several statements he’s made about the agency.
Mr. Dutson, a freelance Web designer who also does Internet advertising, says he became critical of the Maine Office of Tourism in October 2005 when he learned the office had bid for broad search terms that bumped into the interests of his clients. He also argued the Internet-advertising strategy was misguided because he said the office bid on general geographic terms such as the names of cities in Maine. Therefore, potential tourists must already be interested in the state to be led to the state's tourism Web site, he said.
Tom McCartin, president of WKPA, is most concerned about Mr. Dutson's public posts because if potential clients search for the agency online, they will likely see Mr. Dutson's critique-filled blog before the agency's own Web site. As a result, Mr. McCartin says his business, which sees capitalized billings in the $40 million range, has been hurt. And he wants to protect his reputation.
I’ve often said that, to some degree, bloggers are journalists. Some would argue bloggers contribute more to punditry than anything else. And although many of us are not exactly free of our own biases when we post our commentary on current events, we need to keep in mind that we are making ourselves vulnerable to all kinds of libel/defamation risks.

As a fellow blogger (that sounds so weird), I can sympathize with Dutson. However, I think that if you’re going to be vocal about a specific entity, you need to watch your back. Not surprisingly, this AdAge article provides advertisers with advice on what to do if they’re attacked by a blogger. Like to hear it, here it go:

So what is the best way to handle a blogger that you think might be negatively affecting your brand image? Mr. Rubel [blogger and senior VP of Edelman's Me2Revolution group] laid out a game plan.

  • The first step is to contact the blogger and discuss the issue in a nonthreatening way. See if an agreement can be reached.
  • Second, you might have to accept what you cannot change. It's the bloggers' rights to communicate their opinions as long as the information was obtained through legal channels.
  • Try to find a third party to broker a discussion between you and the blogger.
  • Blog back, but only if you already have a blog.
I guess the moral of the story here is to make yourself familiar with the First Amendment and media law. AP stylebook, anyone?

No comments: