…thus breaking the heart of just about every self-important jackass in government these days…

The legal definition of what constituted a journalist and how much said journalist has to abide by the rules, is one that is going to be wrestled with for decades to come.  The internet has let the masses rush to take over the printing presses, and early returns show they’re a surly bunch, and not likely to give up their new-found freedom, even if The Establishment offers them all sorts of enticing (sounding) goodies.

The crux of this case was the responsibility of bloggers for what is said on their (our?) message boards.  Which, if it were to have gone the other way (man, the subjunctive tense is cumbersome in English), would have been burdensome beyond belief … check out the HuffPo message boards … or, if you’ve got the stomach, the message boards at Yahoo news.  Yecch!

Here’s the bullet:

In deciding a case closely watched by free speech groups, the court said a federal law gives immunity from libel suits not only to Internet service providers, like AOL, but also to bloggers and other users of their services.

“Subjecting Internet service providers and users to defamation liability would tend to chill online speech,” today’s unanimous ruling said.

Yah, yah, yah. I know the jackbooted fascists up on the SCOTUS are going to be far less sympathetic to freedom of speech than the wild-haired commies on the California Supreme Court.

The case involved a lawsuit against Ilena
Rosenthal, a women’s health activist, who created an e-mail list and a
newsgroup (alt.support.breast-implant) to discuss issues related to
breast implants.  Six years ago, she posted a letter written by a man
who was highly critical of the efforts of a doctor to discredit
advocates of alternative health treatments.

the letter, the doctor, Terry Polevoy, was accused of trying to get an
alternative medicine radio program canceled by using “scare tactics,
stalking, and intimidation techniques” against the program’s producer. 
Polevy, who maintained a website himself to expose what he called
“health fraud and quackery” sued Rosenthal for libel.

Now, I am not unaware that this issue is, at best, a doubledged sword.  Anyone who surfaces into public prominence thus becomes subject to all manner of calumny and vituperation (I love how those two words always go together) without recourse.  The court ruling basically says that until the law gets hammered into shape by Congress (and don’t hope to see that – they’ve got far, far bigger problems to deal with – there might be a gay couple getting married somewhere, after all), the only way to stop someone from lying and abusing you on-line is to track down the original (anonymous? – probably) author of whatever shitty statements are being tossed around about you.

Which means that services that offer ways to track down the original posters of defamatory comments are going to be doing land-office business in the forseeable future…

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