Bloggers are not journalists. That can be a good thing. That can be a bad thing. Bloggers don't have editors. Bloggers don't have media companies to pay lawyers in the event of a law suit. Bloggers may not be protected under the same first amendment rights as journalists.
So is the situation that Leslie at the Oko Box finds herself. She blogs about organic clothing, environment, pollution, health, organic food, fair trade and organic farming.
In February she outted a production company that contacted her about an alleged series they were doing for PBS. Emails were exchanged. When the production company said it would cost her $26,000 to participate in the program.
Leslie smelled a something fishy. She followed the scent and what she discovered was a very stinky situation.
She headlined the story: Scam Taking Advantage of Green Business
If you do a simple search on TV Production Fee scams, you can easily find this same scam under several other names : New Line Media TV, New Line Media, Platinum Television Group,& PTG Studios (and the current name Vision Media Television ). You can also read a "ripoff report" that matches my experience with them exactly, even down to the minutes and dollar amounts @ http://www.ripoffreport.com/reports/0/232/RipOff0232353.htm
Vision Media has filed a $20 million law suit against Leslie. .The Consumerist reports,
The lawsuit is filed in the Southern District of Florida, a bit of a problem for her as she's based in North Carolina and doesn't have a car or much money. Leslie told the Mountain Xpress, “Who has $20 million? At $20 million, legal-aid organizations generally won’t help you. Since it’s filed in the Southern District of Florida, not a lot of lawyers here are licensed to practice there...I don’t have a car, I don’t have money, so we’re trying to get it transferred here so I can find someone to represent me pro bono."
Any pro-bono lawyers out there who want to help Leslie out can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As B.L. Ochman writes,
A major issue the case brings up is that bloggers First Amendment rights are not as clear as those of mainstream media. A bully like Vision Media counts on a lone blogger not having the resources to fight a lawsuit, even a frivolous one like this one. The posts of many bloggers are shedding light on the situation, and that always helps because bullies count on having their victims turn tail and run
. Over the past several years, Media Bloggers Association has offered legal support and successfully resolved scores of similar cases. MBA's website says it soon will offer affordable liability insurance to its members, along with media law training.
My colleague at BlogHer, Virginia DeBolt had a chance to chat with Leslie about the lawsuit and also has some great advice about the need for adding disclaimers to blog posts.
Putting a disclaimer is super important for anyone blogging, especially if you ever criticize anyone's company, product, or even a politician. Even this may not be all you need to protect yourself though, but it's a good start. Once someone threatens to sue, another thing you can do is "retract" your statement, especially if it wasn't true, or if you found out later it wasn't true. In some cases this can make it so the plaintiff can not get any punitive damages (which in my case would be $15 million). I have added a statement retracting that VMT was entirely "imaginary" because I found out this wasn't true, as I had originally believed. I did not however retract any of my other statements, which were the story of what I experienced with them - but did note my personal definition of "scam" since this is mainly what they are suing me over.
Stopped by Media Bloggers Association and they are not quite ready with their liability insurance but you can sign up for an alert when the service will be available.
More on this story as it develops.