Bloggers, Beware: What You Write Can Get You Sued

Be careful what you post online. You could get sued.

In March 2008, Shellee Hale of Bellevue, Wash., posted in several online forums about a hacker attack on a company that makes software used to track sales for adult-entertainment Web sites. She claimed that the personal information of the sites' customers was compromised.

About three months later, the software company — which contends that no consumer data were compromised — sued Hale in state court in New Jersey, accusing her of embarking "on a campaign to defame and malign the plaintiffs" in chat-room posts.

In her legal response, Hale, 46, claims she is covered by so-called shield laws that protect reporters from suits, because she was acting as a journalist and was investigating the hacker attack while researching a story on adult-oriented spam.

Bloggers are increasingly getting sued or threatened with legal action for everything from defamation to invasion of privacy to copyright infringement. In 2007 — the most recent data available — 106 civil lawsuits against bloggers and others in social networks and online forums were tallied by the Citizen Media Law Project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, up from just 12 in 2003. There have been about $17.4 million in trial awards against bloggers to date, according to the Media Law Resource Center in New York, a nonprofit clearinghouse that tracks free-speech cases.

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