Bloggers’ Squabble Involves Lawyers

RisksAn article published in the Guardian the week before Christmas announced “Hacked climate emails: police seize computers at West Yorkshire home” and went on to describe how “Police officers investigating the theft of thousands of private emails between climate scientists from a University of East Anglia server in 2009 have seized computer equipment belonging to a web content editor based at the University of Leeds“. It seems that “detectives from Norfolk Constabulary entered the home of Roger Tattersall, who writes a climate sceptic blog under the pseudonym TallBloke, and took away two laptops and a broadband router“.

But rather than comment on a climate denier’s blog of more interest was Tattersall’s post regarding Greg Laden: Libellous article which describes how “Blogger Greg Laden has libelled me [Tattersall] in a scurrilous article on his blog“. In brief, Greg Laden appears to have accused Roger Tattersall of illegal activities. However being a climate denier is not illegal and Laden seems to have opened himself up to accusations of libel. He seems to have realised this and has updated his post so that it now begins:

I’ve decided to update this blog entry (20 Dec 2011) because it occurs to me that certain things could be misinterpreted, in no small part because of the common language that separates us across various national borders, and differences in the way debate and concepts of free speech operate in different lands.

I want to make it clear that I do not think that the blogger “TallBloke” a.k.a. Roger Tattersall has broken British law

I hope that will be the end of that matter, but it does highlight some additional legal risks related to publishing a blog, beyond the issue of the cookie legislation which was discussed in a recent post. This incident highlights possible reputational risks for an organisation which employs a blogger (even if, as in this case, the blog is published anonymously and is not related to work activities) and risks that impassioned debate may lead to libellous comments being posted.

Managing risksA Risk Register For Blogs

There may be dangers that risk averse institutions may use such incidents as an opportunity to restrict or even ban blogs provided by their staff. In order to minimise such risks it may be advantageous to take a lead in providing a risk register which documents possible risks and ways in which such risks may be minimised.

I am in the process of providing a risk register and the draft is given below. I welcome feedback on the risks listed below and the approaches described to minimising the risks. In addition I would welcome suggestions for additional risks which I may have failed to address = and suggestions for how such unforeseen risks can be minimised.

Risk Description Risk Minimisation
Legal Risks
Infringement of ‘cookie’ legislation Since the service uses cookies to measure Web site usage, this may be regarded as infringing the ICO’s ‘cookie’ legislation. The ICO’s guidance suggests that due to the technical difficulties in requiring users to opt-in, they will be unlikely to take further action, provided appropriate measures to address privacy concerns are being taken. In the case of this blog, a sidebar widget provides information on cookie usage.
Publication of copyrighted materials Blog posts may contain copyrighted materials owned by others. Images, such as screen shots, may be included without formal permission being granted. Where possible, links will be provided to the source. If copyright owners feel that use of their materials is inappropriate, the content will be removed normally within a period of a week.
Plagiarism Blog posts may plagiarise content published by others. Where possible links will be provided to content published by others and quoted content will be clearly identified.
Publication of inappropriate comments. Inappropriate blog comments may be published. The policy for this blog states that inappropriate comments will be deleted.
Sustainability Risks
Loss of content due to changes in policies. may change its policies on content which can be hosted. Alternatively since the service is based in the US the US Government may force content published on this blog to be removed. Since this blog has a technical focus, it is felt unlikely that this will happen.
Loss of blog service due to service being unsustainable. The service may go out of business or change its terms and conditions so that the blog cannot continue to be hosted on the service. It is felt unlikely that the service will go out of business in the short term. If the service does go out of business or changes in terms and conditions it is felt that due notice will be given which will allow content to be exported and the blog hosted elsewhere.
Reputational Risks
Damage to blog author’s reputation due to inappropriate posts being published. The author’s professional reputation will be undermined in inappropriate posts are published. The blog’s policy states that “the blog will provide an opportunity for me to ‘think out loud’: i.e. describe speculative ideas, thoughts which may occur to me“. If such thoughts are felt to be inappropriate or if incorrect or inappropriate content is published an apology will be given.
Damage to blog author’s host institution or funder due to inappropriate posts being published. The reputation of the author’s host institution or funder will be undermined in inappropriate posts are published. The author will seek to ensure that the conversational style of the blog does not undermine the position of the author’s host institution or funder. Occasional surveys will be undertaken to ensure that the content provided on the blog is felt to be relevant for the blog’s target audience.

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