News of interest to bloggers, part 1 | Slag Heap

News of interest to bloggers, part 1

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As a companion to my story on the upcoming Post-Gazette labor talks, I hope to have a bit more on the PG+ experiment later today. But in the meantime, I wanted to flag a story (which I first spotted over on Blog-Lebo):

Forward Township supervisor sues Web site users

The lede:

A Forward Township supervisor whose character has been attacked in anonymous posts on a local online discussion board has filed a lawsuit over the matter.

Township Board of Supervisors Chairman Tom DeRosa has filed a complaint in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court against some of the anonymous site users, identified in the suit as Howard and Robin Doe.

"They're spreading a lot of lies about me on the Web site," DeRosa said of his reasons for bringing the action. "I'm going to find out who they are."

Well, don't say you weren't warned (mostly in the comments section). I was wondering whether Luke Ravenstahl's decision to hire Philly attorney Richard Sprague might be the opening salvo on online discourse ... but it looks like a township supervisor beat him to the bunch.

For bloggers, the bottom line is this: Federal law effectively precludes you from libel suits based on what other people post on your Web site. (See here for more details, or the comments section of the earlier post linked above.) But you could find yourself served with a subpoena, demanding that you turn over ISP addresses and other identifying information about the people who post on your site. 

This is, in fact, exactly what happened at the site in question, elizabethboro.com. Site operator Richard S. Rattani has given notice to his posters here.

I'm no lawyer -- perhaps Mike Madison would care to weigh in on this -- but this challenge looks like it deserves to be taken seriously. Bloggers and commenters alike should pay attention. The internet is less anonymous than it feels, folks.

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