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August 31st, 2005, 06:06 AM
Blogger Faces Lawsuit Over
Comments Posted by Readers

August 31, 2005

In a legal case being watched closely by bloggers, an Internet company has sued the owner of a Web log for comments posted to his site by readers.

Traffic-Power.com sued Aaron Wall, who maintains a blog on search engine optimization tactics companies use to get themselves to appear higher in searches at Google, Yahoo and elsewhere alleging defamation and publication of trade secrets. The suit, filed in a Nevada state court earlier this month, also listed as defendants several unnamed users of the blog.

At issue are statements posted in the comments section of Mr. Wall's blog, SEOBook.com. Many blogs allow readers to post comments, often anonymously, and Mr. Wall's blog included several reader submissions that blasted tools sold by Traffic-Power.com.

Traffic-Power.com said in the suit that confidential information about the company has been published on the blog, and it accused Mr. Wall of publishing "false and defamatory information," but it didn't identify any of the material in question.

Legal analysts said the case falls into somewhat murky legal territory, but that Mr. Wall may have some protection from liability under federal law. Courts generally have held that the operators of computer message boards and mailing lists cannot be held liable for statements posted by other people. Blogs might be viewed in a similar light, they said.

Posting Complaints

Mr. Wall, 25 years old, who runs an Internet marketing business from his home, said the suit "is so vague in nature that it's hard to know what I'm being sued for." He has posted the text of the lawsuit on his blog and speculated about which reader comments may have prompted it. Some visitors to Mr. Wall's blog had posted comments complaining about what they said were unprofessional business practices by Traffic-Power.com, while others said they didn't think the tools sold by Traffic-Power.com were effective in boosting search-engine rankings. Mr. Wall, of State College, Pa., had also criticized Traffic-Power.com on the blog before the lawsuit was filed.

Other Web sites have criticized Las Vegas-based Traffic-Power.com's business, saying the company has coerced prospective clients into signing up for its service through aggressive telemarketing. Dave Baardsen of Absecon, N.J., who owns TrafficPowerSucks.com, said he also was sued this month by Traffic-Power.com in Nevada. He said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit because he had not yet hired a lawyer.

Steve Pellegrino, a spokesman for Traffic-Power.com, said the company had asked Messrs. Wall and Baardsen to remove some material from their Web sites before filing the suits, and sued them after they refused. "We have let this go on a year and a half," Mr. Pellegrino said.

Watching and Waiting

Bloggers have been buzzing about the lawsuit, swapping links to Mr. Wall's latest dispatches on the case and worrying about their own liability. Legal analysts said the suit could be a test case for determining what protections bloggers have or don't have for allegedly defamatory material posted by others. At issue would be the court's application of the federal Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that, broadly, protects providers of computer services from being held liable for content posted by others.

In a key decision in 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the operator of a Web site can post material from others without liability for the content. "I think there's a strong case to be made that [the Decency Act] applies to bloggers," said Marc S. Martin, a lawyer with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP in Washington, D.C., who specializes in technology law. It "was written very broadly, and the Ninth Circuit interpreted it broadly."

But Mr. Martin and other legal analysts said it was less clear how a court would view the accusation of misappropriation of trade secrets. The Decency Act doesn't provide protection when intellectual property is posted, and a court may rule that trade secrets fall under the definition of intellectual property. State law, rather than federal law, generally applies to trade secrets.

"If the trade-secrets claim is genuine," Mr. Wall may not have protection, said Michael J. Madison, an associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh. "But it's an open question."

Daniel Perry, an Orlando, Fla., lawyer who has closely followed Mr. Wall's case online, said Mr. Wall may have taken on liability by posting negative comments about Traffic-Power.com himself. Another problem, he said: Mr. Wall could be viewed as a commercial competitor to Traffic-Power.com. Mr. Wall's blog is so named because he wrote a guide called SEO Book, about search engine marketing, and he promotes the book on his site.

"To be candid, he sort of moved into this moving propeller," said Mr. Perry, a former Orange County judge. He said courts would likely focus on how Mr. Wall responded to requests to remove material from his site, and Mr. Wall's criticism of Traffic-Power.com. "The Internet is not your personal stump to beat up people."

There have been few lawsuits involving blogs so far, but lawyers have said the area is fertile ground for legal actions because blogging is both increasingly popular and rife with opinions about companies and individuals. Earlier this year, Apple Computer Inc. sued a Harvard student in a California court, accusing him of publishing trade secrets on his blog, ThinkSecret.com, in violation of state law. That case is pending in Superior Court in Santa Clara, Calif.

August 31st, 2005, 06:59 AM
I believe the relevant statement is the one below (even though we do not copy/paste material per se)....

In a key decision in 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the operator of a Web site can post material from others without liability for the content.

and aap ye padho... :)


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