Stop (Blogging), In the Name of the Law

In the world of printed writing, there are many established laws concerning what can and can’t be done. The boundaries are generally clear, and these laws are widely known by those who take up a pen. But once those written blurbs move online, the law becomes a little bit fuzzier. Just ask Stephen Hogge, owner and operator of the blog

Hogge found himself the center of a sticky legal situation after posting a blog that labeled an (allegedly) ex-girlfriend “a mentally ill alcoholic prostitute.” Apparently them’s more than fightin’ words. Them’s grounds for a lawsuit.

The woman in question, California resident Fatima dos Santos Fahmy, took issue with the maligning remarks. A graduate of Miami School of Law, Fahmy hauled Hogge into court. But the question quickly presented itself—where does one file a lawsuit of this kind?

Usually, if you’re seeking somebody out to sue him or her, you have to bring the lawsuit in the defendant’s home court. In this case, Fahmy would have had to bring the case to Hogge’s state of residence, Florida. But instead, Fahmy decided to take the case to her home state, California.

Hogge, a lawyer himself, argued that California did not have jurisdiction over Florida, to which Fahmy fired back that he sought her out in order to defame her character. Therefore, since he targeted her in California, she had every right to seek recompense in California courts. Putting his legal education to good use, Hogge made the final argument that he didn’t know Fahmy was living in California and, therefore, couldn’t possibly have been targeting the state.

The courts were at first leaning towards Fahmy, perhaps based on nothing other than the particularly offensive claims made by Hogge. But they ultimately reconsidered, and decided that California really didn’t have jurisdiction over out-of-state online writers.

This mess of a lawsuit is just one example of how the law becomes complicated when it comes to online writing. And while bloggers are generally receiving the outcome of this particular lawsuit as a win for online writers, it doesn’t mean bloggers are above the law.

If you blog regularly, make yourself aware of the laws as they stand, and acquaint yourself with some of the cases that serve as precedent. While some very specific comments are protected under legal umbrellas such as the Massachusetts Anti-SLAPP law, this certainly doesn’t protect comments of alcoholism and promiscuity against someone that may or may not have dated you once.

So take care with what you write. People are reading and (in some cases) prosecuting for what you might consider offhand, flippant, or funny remarks.

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