According to the Citizen’s Media Law Project, there were over 250 lawsuits filed against bloggers for defamation and another 150 lawsuits filed dealing with copyright issues. Though the number of lawsuits is still fairly small compared to the number of people blogging, there has definitely been an upward trend in recent years (link PDF).
At the same time, bloggers have been striving to gain equal footing with mainstream media representatives in obtaining access to both people and events. However, they have typically had an uphill struggle in obtaining such access for reasons that are not always clear.
Though bloggers have begun to act more and more in the same capacity as the mainstream media, they have typically not had the legal training and information nor the access of journalists. Few come from mass media or law backgrounds and thus often struggle with the legal issues surrounding blogging and even fewer have the connections and knowledge to obtain critical access to important events.
This is where the Media Bloggers Association steps in. It seeks to help grow citizen journalism by providing it with some of the same training and access that journalists in newspapers or television have. The goal is to promote blogging and citizen journalism as its own form of media and give bloggers equal footing, both in the courts and on the streets, to other journalists.
Probably the most prominent feature that the MBA provides is legal assistance to bloggers. By default, this comes in three forms:
- An Online Course: The MBA provides a free online course on media law for bloggers. The course is a requirement to anyone that wishes to become a member of the MBA but is free to any bloggers, member or otherwise, that wishes to take it. The course is fairly brief but contains much of the same information one would get in a journalism law and ethics class.
- Legal Referral Program: Bloggers with legal issues can have the MBA refer them to a qualified attorney that can help them. This service is somewhat similar to what the EFF does in many cases.
- Media Liability Insurance: Many journalists and news organizations have media liability insurance. Much like auto insurance helps pay for damages resulting from a car accident, legal liability insurance helps pay for damages resulting from blogging, including defamation, copyright and other types of claims common to bloggers.
Of the three methods of legal assistance, it is the latter that has received the most attention. The program, which the MBA says is the first of its kind, has many bloggers wondering whether it is something that they need to consider obtaining.
Media Liability Insurance
Media liability insurance works, in practice, very similar to auto liability insurance. If you have an auto accident where you are at fault, your insurance company generally assumes responsibility for defending you and pays any damages you incur up to your policy amount less any deductible that you have.
So, if your accident caused $10 thousand in damages and you had a $25 thousand dollar policy with a $250 deductible, your policy would pay all of the damages less $250, which would be your responsibility. Likewise, if the damages exceeded your policy amount, you would be liable for anything over that amount.
However, with media liability insurance what is covered is not car accidents, but other lawsuits that are common to bloggers. In the case of the MBA’s BlogInsure insurance (link PDF), which is provided through Media/Professional Insurance. that would include the following:
- Invasion of Privacy
Each policy covers the blogger for up to $100,000 in liability per case and $300,000 aggregate and comes with a $2,500 deductible. This means that the blogger would be responsible for the first $2,500 but then would not be responsible for any damages or expenses up to the $100,000 mark for each case. This includes legal expenses incurred defending the case.
Currently, the policy is only for those within the United States and is designed for bloggers earning less than $100,000 per year from their site. Also, it is important to note that insurance is provided on a site-by-site basis and not to the blogger him or herself. Each site must be registered and insured separately.
Is Media Liability Insurance a Good Idea?
The question many bloggers will ask is whether or not media liability insurance is a good idea for them. The answer is very complicated.
First, the pricing of the policies are unknown at this time as they are handled on a case-by-case basis. To find out how much media liability insurance would cost you, you first must become a member of the MBA and then apply for insurance.
Second, the need for such insurance varies wildly from blog to blog and case to case. Blogs that cover news, gossip or routinely posts negative information about people and companies are at a much higher risk of being sued than family blogs, hobby blogs or even tech blogs. Every blog is different and therefore its risk is different.
The simple truth though is that the vast majority of bloggers do not get sued, including those that behave irresponsibly, but the risk is definitely there and it appears to be growing. You need to honestly analyze your own site’s risk for a lawsuit and a great way to do that is to take the MBA’s free online course.
In addition to legal assistance and help in obtaining access credentials, the MBA provides other services including conferences, awards and other services that one would typically expect from a trade organization.
Overall, the MBA is not for every blogger nor is it likely for most. Though the dues of $25 per year are reasonable, most bloggers would likely have little reason to want to join a trade group.
However, those that are very serious about blogging, especially as a form of journalism, may want to seriously consider it. Even if you don’t opt for the liability insurance, the referral program can help a great deal and the other services provided by the MBA may be very compelling.
But even if you do not have any interest in joining the MBA, their online media law class is a very useful tool that virtually anyone who publishes to the Web should go through at least once. The information contained in there is invaluable when it comes to staying out of trouble on the Web.
After all, though you can never completely eliminate the risk of being sued, you can certainly go a long way to reducing the chance you’ll ever need (or wish you had) liability insurance.