Internet libel: Did a law firm defame a law school?

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What do defamation laws do?

Defamation laws exist to discourage people from broadcasting false statements about others.

If a party makes false assertions about any aspect of your character, you have the right, under the defamation laws, to sue that party. Though intended to merely protect individuals’ reputations from falsification, defamation suits run into controversy due to their perception as limiting freedom of speech. In one recent example, debate exists on whether a New York law firm did in fact defame the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law, located in Lansing, Michigan.

Why is the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law suing a New York law firm for defamation?

Cooley claims that the New York law firm Kurzon Strauss LLP defamed the school by asking students to join the law firm in a class action suit against the school. Pointing specifically to information about Cooley students defaulting on their loans, Kuzon Strauss asserted statistics about Cooley that the school claims are libelous and untrue. In order to maintain the reputation of the school, Cooley decided a defamation suit was necessary

In addition to the suit against Kurzon Strauss, the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law filed suit against four anonymous bloggers that the school claims have posted online comments detrimental to the school’s reputation. Cooley representatives claim that though free speech entitles everyone to their own opinions about the school, these particular online comments have crossed the line into defamation. The results of these suits could usher in new standards by which parties are able to recover in defamation suits for content posted over the internet.

What has happened to the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law as a result of its lawsuit?

Pursuant to Cooley’s suit, an attorney for Kurzon Strauss named David Anziska announced plans his business had for countersuing both the law school, and its lawyers. Anziska claimed that Cooley’s original suit seeks to intimidate his law firm, and that the grounds on which Cooley is suing are unfounded.

Given the relative newness of the internet, this controversy could answer questions about how much is too much in terms of freedom individuals have to post comments on the internet. Proponents of free speech might argue that the best remedy for false information posted over the internet would be for the school to have posted the correct information-not to sue Kurzon Strauss. Others might disagree, instead recognizing that preservation of reputation, even over the internet, demands that the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law win its defamation suit against Kurzon Strauss.

Name And Shame Websites: Free Speech or Defamation?

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What is a Name and Shame website?

Name and Shame websites are websites that post evidence of and commentary on actions performed by individuals, with the intent of shaming those individuals and others out of future performance.

In the United States, websites such as saltydroid.info post information about individuals with the intent of keeping those individuals from engaging in further actions. Not so much news as it is simply reporting on the misdeeds of others, Name and Shame websites have received scrutiny from those ‘shamed’ on their websites, and from lawmakers. A controversy has emerged where some feel ‘Name and Shame’ websites violate libel laws mean to protect individuals’ personal integrity, while others feel that Name and Shame websites contribute to the vibrant free speech so valuable in the contemporary world.

What did the Dubai based ‘Name and Shame’ website seek to do?

At the forefront of the debate about whether or not governments should allow ‘Name and Shame’ websites to post embarrassing and reputation-crippling information about individuals is a situation emerging out of Dubai. Specifically, a British man living in Dubai recently launched a campaign to ‘Name and Shame’ bad drivers and restaurants that perform poorly. The man claims his intention in launching the campaign was to hold people accountable for their actions through publicly airing his perception of their improper actions.

In an attempt to achieve this goal, the ‘Name and Shame’ man would log his DubaiNameShame website, and post incriminating photographs and analysis thereupon. The Dubai based web-user would then update a Twitter account with information about those posted on the ‘Name and Shame’ website. For example, the DubaiNameShame man could post a picture online of an individual driving poorly, and then other internet users could recognize, identify and, perhaps, ostracize that individual for his/her poor driving.

What happened after the ‘Name and Shame’ website posted information about individuals

Though the British man, whose identity remains unconbusinessed, intended that his campaign make Dubai a safer and generally better city to live in, UAE officials might disagree. After having posted many pictures and comments online with the intent of naming and shaming those individuals out of further performance, many complained that the website was going too far. Specifically, some argued that the website violated UAE libel laws.

Fearing legal action, the British man removed all postings from his internet site, and vowed to discontinue posting information that might violate UAE law. The man, however, did promise to continue publishing and brining attention to improper behavior in accordance with UAE libel law. The controversy in its entirety might only directly affect the UAE, but lawmaking bodies and individuals have paid keen attention to the situations, wondering the ramifications it will have for their respective nations and internet communications throughout world in general.

Are Cartoons Cyberstalking, Internet Defamation, or Free Speech?

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cyberstalking - internet stalking

Are police cyberstalking victims of a cartoonist?

Internet cartoons equal cyberstalking?

The Renton, WA police department sought to prosecute an internet user who posted an insulting video about the police department under the screen name Mr. Fiddlesticks. The alleged crime? Cyberstalking.

To assist them in their pursuit of the internet user, the Renton police department recently obtained a search warrant that orders Google to turn over the real name and identity of Mr. Fiddlesticks. Officers in the department expect to treat Mr. Fiddlesticks as someone who had illegally committed ‘cyberstalking’ through the posting of information on the internet with the intention of harassing or embarrassing individuals.

Public uproar and ridicule were key factors in the police department backing down on the criminal investigation.

What does the Renton, WA police department believe the cartoons are cyberstalking?

Using an internet video creation website, Mr. Fiddlesticks created videos which depicted the Renton police department in a fairly negative way. For example, Mr. Fiddlesticks implied that members of Renton’s police department committed sex acts while on duty, and that some of the officers received promotions without meeting the necessary prerequisites. In general, the nine videos Mr. Fiddlesticks created generally depicted the Renton police department as a corrupt and incompetent institution.

Officers within the department claim the videos to caused them emotional distress and that Mr. Fiddlesticks should promptly be identified and prosecuted. The officers argue that the videos all constitute ‘cyberstalking’ by their sheer offensive nature which was posted online, they argue, with the intent of doing reputational or emotional damage to the officers. Some officers suspect that the video must have been posted by someone within the department, such as a police officer or some other personnel, given the specific knowledge the videos display about the Renton police department.

Is there a legal justification for prosecuting Internet cartoons as cyberstalking?

Upon hearing about the situation, law professors and legal experts throughout the United States have voiced their opinions about whether or not the Renton police should be able to prosecute Mr. Fiddlestick for his online remarks. Though inarguably provocative enough to have caused the Renton police some embarrassment and hurt feelings, various legal minds have claimed the First Amendment’s protection of free speech prevents Mr. Fiddlestick from suffering any punishment.

In the minds of some of these legal officials, Mr. Fiddlestick did simply what all other comedians do when they speak or present information in a potentially embarrassing way about other individuals for the sake of humor or some other reason. These legal minds contend that if Mr. Fiddlestick faces prosecution, all comedians who poke fun at other individuals or organizations could have their freedom of expression stifled.

Even though criminal prosecution for cyberstalking now seems off the table, the threat of arresting someone for a cartoon has a chilling effect on free speech. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Fiddlestick will be identified and sued in civil court for Internet defamation instead of treated like a criminal for cyberstalking.