As the realm of Internet Law has been growing, though not nearly as fast as the Internet itself has, more and more people previously innocent are being brought to court for crimes that they are innocently unaware of.
Take the case of first-year Carleton University journalism student Zack Bradley from Oshawa, who at age 20 is still a kid, though technically not a minor. He, like many sports fans, decided to rail on sports players and GMs alike, and apparently got on the bad side with ex-Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke.
So, what’s wrong with blogging and expressing a little freedom of speech? Apparently, a lot.
Zack Bradley is currently being charged by Brian Burke with libel for posting a blog comment about an alleged affair between Burke and Rogers Sportsnet reporter Hazel Mae. He claims that Burke is the father of her child, which the lawsuit states are “false” and “defamatory.” This lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent their publication as well as undisclosed damages and costs. Interestingly, none of these claims were proven in court.
Zack Bradley, in the meantime, is taking this very lightly. As Bradley told the Toronto Star, “It’s a crazy idea, right? . . . I thought it was just a rumour. I said speculation … What I said wasn’t probably true and I just removed it because I don’t want anything bad to happen in the future.”
Zack Bradley claims that he first heard the comments about Burke through a friend and on various online hockey forums, and then really noticed when reporters started contacting him through his Twitter channel, THEzbrad.
In the end, he wonders like many, why was he and 17 others singled out and not the millions of other Hockey fans:
“Why would you go through so much trouble just to remove (18) comments?” he said. “It makes me wonder, why is it a big deal? … I thought this can’t be that important if he messaged me on Facebook,” Bradley said. “I really didn’t take it seriously.”
But after hearing about Burke’s suit, Bradley said he decided to delete his post, which according to a Google archive seen by a reporter refers to “speculation” about the former GM’s firing and the “rumours” about Mae and the child.
Twitter Tweets by Zack Bradley
Zack Bradley tweeted on his Twitter channel a progression of tweets that show the young man go from nonchalant to scared of actually heading to jail:
- April 26, 2013 11:58 AM -> Brian Burke is suing me. I think he’s just angry that “his” Toronto team finally made the playoffs. Sorry Burkey
- April 30, 2013 1:18 PM -> Burke’s lawsuit is very counter productive to his goal. By engaging in a lawsuit, he made it national news. No one read my blog before.
- April 30, 2013 4:31 PM ->That Toronto Star picture wasn’t the best choice I think… Made me look like a criminal. Uhoh.
The Interesting Case of Internet Law in Toronto
Montreal lawyer Allen Mendelsohn, who specializes in Internet law, is representing the owner of one of the blogs implicated in the suit.
“Those four comments that are there come from one person in particular — only one person,” Mendelsohn told the Toronto Star. “My impression of this lawsuit is that he’s taking four defamatory statements made by one person and is now attributing them to 18 people. Nowhere does it say that the other 17 defendants specifically republished one of those four defamatory statements. From a legal perspective this is my problem with this entire lawsuit.”
Mendelsohn stated that it’s not unusual in cases of alleged online defamation for a claim in a lawsuit simply to name anonymous aliases, since the identities of the people behind those aliases are often unknown. A claim is the first step in making the case, he said, and the next step is to pursue legal avenues to unmask those they are accusing of defamation.
Though Burke’s suit names a commenter on his client’s site but not his client, Mendelsohn said he expects Burke’s lawyers to try to compel his client to provide information that would help reveal the identity of that commenter.
Meanwhile, Mae’s lawyers said Saturday she is still considering her legal options, but is in support of Burke’s suit.
Is this a Glorified Form of Online Reputation Management?
Online Reputation Management is a whole other topic of conversation, but simply put, online reputation management is just that: managing your reputation through the web space. Traditionally this is done by making a whole campaign revolving around the name of a person or company. Micro-sites, Google Places, Social Media Channels, and YouTube videos are created with the hope that viral marketing will cause negative press to plummet to Page 2 on Google and beyond.
However, a lawsuit can do just as well a job, if not better, as news and press releases are more ready to write about a lawsuit rather than “why person X is really a good guy.”
What is to follow?
What will follow will be interesting. That said, we all can learn the following lessons in blogging through this incident:
- If you were the target of other people making claims that could potentially jeopardize your own marriage, how would you react?
- Internet law is young, but realize that what you post online can and will hurt people’s reputations. Also, the target can fight fire with fire, either blogging bad about you, or worse, threatening your pocketbook with a lawsuit.
- The threat of jail-time will always scare people, especially young ones, into doing the bidding of older dinosaurs that aren’t as internet-savvy. Never mess with people making salaries with more digits that the fingers on both of your hands.