By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Libel insurance for bloggers

Blogging can be a legally hazardous activity, especially if you are doing it independently. If a staff reporter for an established news organization is sued for libel, he or she is in for an exceedingly unpleasant experience — but at least the employer and its insurance company will pay to fight the charges or settle.

Last year I attended a conference at which the subject of bloggers and liability came up, and let’s just say that it was chilling, in all senses of the word. Right now Cape Cod Today blogger Peter Robbins is facing a libel suit. What too many bloggers fail to understand is that they are not exempt from libel laws. They just lack the means to fight back.

That’s why a new project by the Media Bloggers Association is so interesting. MBA president Robert Cox (in photo) has come up with a new program under which bloggers who take an online course in media law will be eligible to purchase libel insurance.

It’s not cheap — David Ardia of the Citizen Media Law Project, who helped write the online course, says that it will cost a minimum of $450 a year. A prominent local blogger who’s been corresponding with me about this looked into it and was told that, in his case, it might be almost twice that. But it’s a lot cheaper than losing your home, which is what many bloggers are unwittingly risking.

Cox is a longtime leader in legal issues facing the blogging community, and he deserves a lot of credit for bringing this program to fruition.

Photo (cc) by J.D. Lasica and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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Live-blogging tonight’s debate


  1. SolShine7

    I haven’t been over here in a while but I like your new layout! The MBA seems much needed, especially for entertainment and political bloggers.

  2. LFNeilson

    I’m amazed at some of the stuff I read in blogs. Obviously some people have no concept of libel whatsoever. Perhaps the only defense the bloggers might raise would be their lack of credibility, but that wouldn’t help them in court. Probably the best defense against a libel suit is knowledge of libel law. Three elements of libel: defamation, identification and circulation. All three elements must be present in order to constitute libel.A very strong defense is truth. If you’re going to say something bad about someone, make sure your facts are correct and that you can back them up.Libel is one reason I’m happy writing historical pieces. My subjects are all dead. If I come up with a juicy story about someone who’s still breathing, I wait.The really crazy thing about bloggers libeling others is that there’s very little reason for it. I would guess that most bloggers are blowing off steam, oblivious to the risk.zzzzz

  3. Ghazala Khan

    Interview RequestHello Dear and Respected,I hope you are fine and carrying on the great work you have been doing for the Internet surfers. I am Ghazala Khan from The Pakistani Spectator (TPS), We at TPS throw a candid look on everything happening in and for Pakistan in the world. We are trying to contribute our humble share in the webosphere. Our aim is to foster peace, progress and harmony with passion. We at TPS are carrying out a new series of interviews with the notable passionate bloggers, writers, and webmasters. In that regard, we would like to interview you, if you don’t mind. Please send us your approval for your interview at my email address “ghazala.khi at”, so that I could send you the Interview questions. We would be extremely grateful.regards. Ghazala KhanThe Pakistani Spectator

  4. Michael Pahre

    I took MBA’s online course recently and it took around two hours to go through the material and the case studies. The exam at the end was straight-forward… I probably could’ve passed it without taking the course, though.$450 (or more) is a pretty hefty price to pay, however, for a blogger like me using free tools ( the past, the MBA has been involved in pro bono work defending bloggers against baseless lawsuits. I wonder to what extent they will continue to help out those who choose not to pay for the blogging insurance?

  5. Robert Cox

    Michael,First of all, welcome to the MBA! We are happy to have you as a member.If you go through the official announcement you will see that there are several parts to the new program not just insurance; not only do we still offer to help bloggers with legal threats as part of being a member (which costs $25) we have greatly expanded the MBA Legal Referral Program. We now have sixty lawyers in 20 states with an eye towards expanding to all 50 states. We are also working to develop a knowledge base which will incorporate questions we get from bloggers into a sort of mega-FAQ.As we make clear, however, the legal referral program is not a substitute for liability insurance. The purpose of that program is to introduce a blogger to a lawyer specializing on the area of law relevant to their situation. Just getting to the right kind of lawyer is often a major challenge for a blogger. These are lawyers who have agreed to take calls from our members to answer BASIC questions, assess risks, explain options and review the time and costs of putting on a defense with regard to a specific legal threat. The lawyers are not available to provide unlimited, pro bono legal services as I am sure folks can understand.Putting on a defense in a defamation case, for example, can cost tens of thousands of dollars to say nothing of a judgement if the blogger loses (fyi, there are over $16mm in judgements against bloggers according to the Media Law Resource Center). The MBA is hardly in a position to fund that sort of a defense – let along pay off a judgement – and no lawyer would join our network if we expect them to take on that cost.In 2004, when we first started taking on cases there were only a dozen that year. It has doubled ever since and today Harvard Law Schools' Citizen Media Law Project is tracking over 500 threats and cases. This does not count the thousands of DMCA Take Down Notices and Cease & Desist letters. The trend line is disturbing. The problem is real and growing. As we have been more involved than any other organization in these matters, we saw this trend first and came to realize that the long-term sustainability of citizen media depended on bloggers having access to the same sorts of legal and financial resources as traditional media companies have. That said, we know full well that few bloggers are today even aware of the risks associated with being a publisher let alone are prepared to pay for insurance to cover those risks. That is a big part of what animated our desire to develop a course on media law tailored specifically for bloggers – and why it is free. We want all bloggers to take that course whether they join the MBA or not because we know how important it is that bloggers are armed with a basic understanding of the laws on defamation, copyright, and privacy.

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