Friday, April 21, 2006

Inspiring Bloggership

I've spent a lot of time today reading over several of the papers posted here, leading up to a Bloggership conference next week in Boston, in which Ann Althouse is participating, among other well-known law bloggers. (She also blogged about it here, with reference to the first paper to be posted, by Orin Kerr.)

I'm not going to blog now about the specific content of any of the papers, partly because I haven't read all of them yet, partly because many if not all are still in draft, and partly because the conference isn't here yet.

However, I do want to encourage people to look over the topics covered and consider dipping into the papers posted at the Social Science Research Network. The conference itself and the papers are focused on law blogging, or at least lawyers who also blog. Yet I found a lot information that's worth pondering for other types of bloggers.

One paper that particularly caught my eye was "Co-Blogging Law," written by Eric Goldman of Marquette University Law School. Frankly, this isn't a topic I've ever thought about, though I'm sure many law-types and savvy others have. In my case, it wasn't even relevant until three weeks ago (guest-blogging is included under co-blogging). I'm not particularly concerned now, anymore than I would have been then, primarily because both Cal's and my background in journalism means we're conversant with such issues as libel, defamation, copyright infringement etc. etc. as a matter of professional training and practice. Having worked with him over a period of years, I know to what standards he adheres and the level of responsibility he takes with regard to them.

After reading Goldman's paper, however, you can be sure I'd think more than twice about joining forces with someone whom I didn't know personally, hadn't worked with professionally, and whom I wasn't positive had a firm grounding in and commitment to certain key principles related to publishing that are second nature to me. If I were formally co-blogging/co-"owning" a blog over the long term, I'd have to consider more formal ground rules even with someone I do know.

I've been frankly surprised that there haven't been more lawsuits of one sort of another--having to do with libel or violations of fair use or what-have-you, given some of the things that I've read in the blogosphere over time. (Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit discusses some likely reasons in his paper on libel.) There's no question, in my mind at least, that as this media matures, so will the law and climate surrounding it--and perhaps more important, so will the awareness of potential litigants.

I think Reynolds' point is well taken that a rich blogger (meaning probably "big" or "corporate": my words, not his) is a more likely target. But smaller ones may be more vulnerable in other ways, whether due to ignorance, lack of resources, failure to think of a blog as a serious entity with potential liabilities, or what have you. For example, I do all of my "real" writing, editing and other work through our incorporated entity, and I carry insurance against all sorts of contingencies related to my professional endeavors. In contrast, I look at my blogging as a strictly personal thing. Though I'm just as careful about such issues as libel, I have never once even considered whether I should treat my blogging, from a risk standpoint, in the same way that I do every other writing/editing-related thing. Now I will think about that, especially when I relaunch my own blog and likely move it to one of the servers that we own and operate.

Blogging is a hobby for most of us, but that fact doesn't make it any less of a responsibility, one that carries potentially significant risks if it isn't taken seriously. Maybe while the law profs are off discussing how "blogs are transforming legal scholarship," etc., we should all take a look at what we know (or think we do), what we're assuming, and how we do what we do.

I sure wouldn't want to be a test case. Would you?

Update: Cal brings up the issue of comments in the comments section here.