The First Amendment’s Impact on Bloggers: A Legal Perspective

The First Amendment’s Impact on Bloggers: A Legal Perspective

Joshua Azriel (Kennesaw State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-744-9.ch013
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Abstract

This chapter examines the First Amendment’s challenges to bloggers in the United States and highlights the potential legal consequences for victimizing someone online. While the First Amendment protects an overall right to free speech, there are certain boundaries to this right. Federal Internet-related speech laws, libel, invasion of privacy, copyright, trademark, and others are analyzed within the context of blogging. The author discusses the potential legal consequences to blogging at work or after hours and how personal blogs can negatively impact the work environment. Several Supreme Court cases are discussed to assist bloggers in understanding the scope of contemporary Internet free speech laws. An analysis of U.S. federal laws restricting online speech and an overview of the following areas of speech law are provided: libel, invasion of privacy, protection for confidential sources, copyright, trademark, true threats, and obscenity.
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Background

While blogging is a relatively new phenomenon, the concept of it could be dated to the early years of the U.S. when Benjamin Franklin published the Pennsylvania Gazette using a lead type printing press. The notion and practice of publishing one’s own thoughts without government approval is closely related to blogging. Gillmor (2006) noted that the founders of the early American Republic, such as Thomas Paine and James Madison, published their opinions about the political and social issues of their time and often under an assumed name. According to Gillmor, blogging is fundamentally the same idea. Anyone with a computer and Internet access can start a blog. Bloggers can reveal their identity or use a pseudonym in a similar manner to how James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay published the Federalist Papers under the name “Publius.”

As with the traditional print media, bloggers do not have an unrestricted right to publish any content they want. There are potential legal consequences to cyberbullying, libeling, invading one’s privacy, or posting obscenity. While the First Amendment guarantees a right to freedom of speech and the press, it is not a legal right to harm someone. The laws are not meant to restrict content ideas, but they serve as a means to protect people from harm. Libel, privacy, copyright infringement, trademark, threats, and obscenity are areas of speech law that bloggers commonly and unknowingly violate. They cross a legal line when what they publish impacts a victim’s privacy, reputation, or creative works. Whether it is a blog read by just a few people or one that is viewed by thousands or millions, a blogger is just as legally culpable as any mainstream media organization.

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