I come from a family of insurance agents (among other things). Don’t hold that against me.
Given that the government has routinely failed to protect the free speech of citizen journalists and bloggers, we’re on our own.
I’ve watched family and friends struggle through the gnawing, never-ending, zombie-like horror of being sued and in our modern world and it’s seriously anxiety-inducing even if you know you’re in the right.
Anyone that is the subject of any sort of negative post online (from blogs to Facebook pages to online review sites) can file a lawsuit against whomever published that information (not that they’ll win, but they can tie you up in court and put you in a bind financially fighting them off).
Coincidentally, WNYC’s “On the Media” had an excellent program detailing how some law firms are paying newspapers for the rights to their articles and then searching the web for content that is ostensibly re-used by bloggers or commenters without the newspapers’ permission (Listen Here). These suits are appallingly-naked attempts to profit from [mis]using the legal system to scare “mom and pop” bloggers into settling what are potentially fair uses of this news copy for thousands of dollars (as opposed to the $150,000 that these suits initially demand).
The good thing is that there are a couple of relatively inexpensive ways to protect yourself:
- Add a Personal Injury Endorsement to your Homeowners Insurance Policy: This will protect against “personal injury” in the form of either a criminal prosecution or a civil suit for “libel, slander, defamation of character or invasions of rights of privacy.” Insurance costs vary from person to person, but as a ballpark figure you can go by – it would only cost me $16 per year to add $500,000 worth of coverage to my policy. Not a bad investment.
- Incorporate as an LLC: BlogHer has a good article explaining how forming a Limited Liability Corporation can help protect you if you are sued (essentially the only assets that can be sued for are the assets of the company; your personal assets are protected). It’s relatively easy to form an LLC (instructions are available online) but if you’re more comfortable getting assistance, I had a great experience with LegalZoom and they offer LLC incorporation services.