Monday, November 15, 2010

Fight Fire With Fire

The furnace ignites and my head jolts up. I wipe drool off my chin and look out at the Boston commuters rumbling outside. Few will notice the small light from my window, but I could stop traffic with a single match strike.

You can write your whole life in relative anonymity. It’s a paradox of internet publishing—the power to broadcast to the world, but never actually reaching anyone. I'm easily lulled into a false sense of security and forget that published ideas are available to anyone with a web connection. All of these thoughts may exist in a vacuum for now, but one misstep, and there could be serious legal consequences. Despite the Lunesta-like effects of the subject matter, it’s vitally important to learn about the legal side of blogging.

I may feel alone when writing, but I'm absolutely alone should I face litigation for the work. As an independent blogger, there’s no employer to back me up. I'd seriously consider incorporation should my site ever become a popular destination.

Words and ideas carry a tremendous amount of power. They can sway opinion and severely affect both the author’s and subject’s existence. A lone, irresponsible blogger can even force the executive office’s hand, as highlighted by the recent Shirley Sherrod incident. It’s a delicate balancing act for an independent blogger. We write to incite something within people, to give something, but also open ourselves up to potential litigation. Listen to the voice in your head (and not the one holding a pitchfork). If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. There are a number of ways an author can get himself into trouble, but most legal problems arise because of gross misconduct.

Billions of ideas are self-published online and it’s difficult to get yours noticed, but it’s extremely easy for companies or even individuals to track when their name is mentioned. Cast it in a bad or untrue light, and they’ll know it. Even if what you’re writing is completely factual, it may not be enough. An individual can litigate if “embarrassing private facts” are disclosed. A company, with large resources, can file a frivolous lawsuit and many times will succeed in suppressing factual information by doing so. Are you willing to spend an exorbitant amount of time and money to defend your writing?

I say yes. Stand up for what you believe in. Not every writer needs to be provocative, but if your aim is to promote truth and influence, then you’ll inevitably vex someone. The threat of litigation can be frightening, but even scarier would be a world where dissident voices are smothered. You never know…the publicity from a high profile court case may even dramatically increase your site’s traffic.

I don’t suggest intentionally burning down your house just to attract a crowd of onlookers. But if you’re passionate about your material and bold enough to defend it, then flame on.

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