Bloggers’ Legal Defense Society

Bloggers’ Legal Defense Society

: We need all the many blogging lawyers to band together to provide legal help for their fellow bloggers. Said it before, I’ll say it again now.

The latest case: Jason Kottke did some great reporting and posted audio and then a transcript of Ken Jennings’ loss on Jeopardy, the worst kept secret in Hollywood this side of Michael Jackson’s weirdness. Sony lawyers contacted Jason, first telling him to take the audio down, then telling him to take the transcript down (even though the same details were reported in the Washington Post). Now Jason — a pioneer in this ‘sphere, a damned Davey Crockett of blogging — is thinking about giving up the blog. He’s feeling the chill.

You’ll all remember when Robert Cox felt a similar chill from The New York Times’ lawyers until (a) he got some help from pro bono lawyers from blogs and (b) saner souls prevailed at The Times and they came to a swift and civilized agreement. Nonetheless, we know that Robert, too, felt the chill. We all do when lawyers descend upon us. Civilians can’t afford the fight. And that’s just the point, of course.

So we need our own lawyers.

Anil Dash, Tom Biro, and Steve Rubel, three good gentlemen of this space, have written about this and there’ve been suggestions about starting a blog industry association, which was discussed at Bloggercon II and which might be a solution. But I think such a group has other jobs on the business front (setting ad standards, setting measurement standards, getting data on the blog world, selling the wonders of blogs to marketers).

In this case, I think there is a very specific need: Jason and Robert before him needed to tell the lawyers calling him to “call my lawyer.”

Of course, bloggers can’t afford lawyers of their own. But we know from Robert’s case there there are a good number of good souls with legal degrees out there who are willing and eager to help.

I suggest that what we need now is a means of organizing them so a blogger who’s getting harassed by big corporate or government attorneys can call for help. In some cases, the lawyers may say that the blogger did something wrong. But in most cases, the lawyer can breath fire back at the corporate dragons and skip the harassment stage and get right to the civilized discussion and agreement stage.

We also need to know about these cases so we can publicize them.

And I will still beg these same attorneys to put together a curriculum on legal rights and responsibilities for bloggers so folks who don’t have corporate attorneys behind them can know what’s what.

Finally, we also need to see about getting some group-rate libel insurance for bloggers.

Note also that we’re going to need legal help the first time bloggers face challenges under shield laws, for Freedom of Information Act requests, for access to government, and so on.

So, I urge, beg, cajole, wheedle, and whine hoping that a few good blogging lawyers will step forward to found the Bloggers’ Legal Defense Society.

I suggest we need:

1. An organization. Somebody needs to put it together. That somebody needs to be a lawyer and/or law professor. You know who you are!

2. A wiki or equivalent where lawyers can sign up, listing their specialties and agreeing to get emails (or RSS notification) of a bloggers’ distress call. Plenty of folks could set that up.

2. A means by which bloggers can post their problems. The lawyers will be notified so one or more can volunteer to help. Bloggers should monitor this so we can publicize deserving cases (because PR is just as powerful a weapon).

3. Curriculum on legal rights and responsibilities, including libel and copyright. Also a wiki so no one has to do it all.

4. A volunteer to find and negotiate a group rate for libel insurance.

5. Contributions and a means to accept them (which means this needs to be a 501c3, eh?).

Volunteers? Please? The future of citizens’ media depends on this.

Today, the cause is merely Jeopardy. Tomorrow, citizens’ media could be in jeopardy. Let’s act before it’s too late.