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Libel. etc. and the Blogosphere

A Maine-based blogger has been hit with a million-dollar suit for copyright infringement, defamation, and libel for posting complaints about a Maine tourism campaign.

Warren Kremer Paino Advertising filed a suit against Dutson in federal court in Portland for defamation and copyright infringement. Dutson writes a blog called Maine Web Report in which he has posted comments critical of the tourism office�s Web site marketing strategies.

The defamation count of the suit may prove to be a real stretch. As Wikipedia helpfully points out, the Cherry Sisters cases is often quoted here:

"The Odebolt Chronicle wrote in 1899: "The mouths of their rancid features opened like caverns and sounds like the wailings of damned souls issued therefrom". When the Des Moines Leader reprinted the review two weeks later, the sisters sued for libel and damages for $25 000. The suit was dismissed but the sisters took it to higher court. In 1901, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in the paper's favor. The case Cherry v. Des Moines Leader became a precedent that gave art critics the right to criticize acts to the point of ridicule."

The gist of Dutson's criticism was the way the agency employed taxpayers' money to enhance web traffic through the purchase of keywords at Google AdWords and Overture. He has argued that the state�s payment of premium rates for keyword placements outbids smaller business owners that wish to utilize the search engines to draw traffic to website, forcing all Mainers to pay more.

The draft ad Dutson reproduced was pulled by him directly from the Maine Tourism site, where it was apparently available as a PDF file. The draft had given a dummy phone number to call, but it turns out that number was a phone-sex number instead of the correct number for the Maine Department of Tourism.

Not a great lawsuit, sez me, not only in law but also as a matter of PR. I think the plaintiff is quickly going to learn what kind of a public relations problem the blogosphere can create for a business which doesn�t understand the medium. A PR firm should know better. The defendant has secured good quality pro bono legal representation, and the plaintiff may get more publicity this way than it bargained for.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.