Sunday, July 12, 2009

Major financial columnist covers media perils insurance for bloggers

Eileen Amrbose has a regular column on personal finance in the Baltimore Sun, and I see that on June 16 she weighed in on the subject of liability insurance for bloggers.

She refers to a case of a libel lawsuit against Courtney Love for unfavorable (to say the least) comments that Love made about a clothing designer on tweets and blogs. In Ohio, a blogger was assessed a judgment of over $100000 for calling a property haunted. (It's hard to determine when "the Opinion Rule" prevails-- but think about it, a blogger could really harm someone financially with a disparaging comment about that party's mortgaged real estate.) Some cases have occurred with people with much less celebrity.

The article, dated June 16 in The Baltimore Sun, is titled “Instant comment brings risk of instant lawsuits”, with link here. The story refers to the lack of editorial supervision over most blogs. Here's another story, from the Huffington Post in March 2009, about the Courtney Love case, link.

The article then goes into the subject of insurance, and does suggest that umbrella insurance will work for some people. For semi-professional bloggers, she suggests a general liability policy of $500 to $1000 a year. The overall concern is that insurance companies could find these policies very hard to underwrite and price, with more controversial blogs (like dealing with gay rights) being perceived as more risky. (Some property or auto companies will not cover someone under an umbrella policy when that person is an "entertainer" -- but in the asymmetric world of blogs, profiles and tweets, anyone can become an "entertainer" overnight -- and "entertainment" is a very subjective concept anyway.) The National Writers Union encountered this problem back in 2001.

The Media Bloggers Association seems to be finding that completing of a course and passing a test on intellectual property legal concepts could help insurance companies price the products. That is all the more reason to start covering online law in public schools, where the expertise to teach it is sorely missing right now.

Another development that would help with this issue would be tort reform – loser pays – and national anti-SLAPP legislation. Frivolous suits could become a serious problem in the future.

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