Homeowners Insurance For Libel On The Net?
Jim Goodale is one of my favorite lawyers. He was in house counsel for The New York Times during the Pentagon Papers saga. His job was to counsel the newspaper whether to publish the leaked documents after the Times received a telegram from then Attorney General John Mitchell threatening to prosecute the Times under the federal Treason Act if it published them. Did I mention that the Treason Act carried the death penalty? Anyway, Jim is no longer Time general counsel, but he continues to speak and write on First Amendment topics. He recently published an article in the New York Law Journal that debunks the notion that you can say whatever you want on the Internet. The gist of the article is that, while Web hosts are essentially immune from third party posts (thanks to Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act) the posters themselves are liable for any defamatory content they post. If you’re the target of such a post, that’s kind of been considered a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is, you’ve got a claim. The bad news is, you don’t have a claim against Google, Yahoo or whatever other deep pocketed Web host you might have otherwise targeted. But Jim’s article points out that many homeowners’ insurance policies contain libel coverage. That means that the blog poster who defames you may actually have coverage. And that means there is potential for real recovery. And that means that plaintiff lawyers may be willing to take cases that otherwise wouldn’t be worth the effort. The moral of the story? Don’t assume you can blast away with blog comments free from consequences. And check your insurance coverage.