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Could You Be Sued for Libel?

Know what you can and can't say on your company's blog.

It's easy to forget that blogging makes one an international journalist, meaning businesses that host blogs are subject to lawsuits over libel. So here's a quick look at the law.

Courts typically treat blogs like other media, though a recent Texas decision limited a company's liability over libel on a blog to one year after posting, and a recent California ruling granted immunity to all but the initial source of a libelous statement made online. The First Amendment protects Americans' speech, but not when the speaker knows it's false.

Courts recognize certain defenses in defamation cases. If something is true, reporting it is not libel, provided you do so fairly. And if you get consent before publishing someone's comment, that person can't sue you for libel later. Neutral reporting is a defense, such as quoting public figures making potentially libelous comments about each other. And though opinion is protected, you can't just tack "in my opinion" onto a libelous comment that reads like fact. If your company allows people to post comments, have someone monitor your blog and remove offensive comments.

Bear in mind that a blog is visible all over the world, and libel laws in other countries may be even stricter. So watch what you say and what you allow others to say on your site.

Jane Easter Bahls is a writer in Rock Island, Illinois, specializing in business and legal topics.

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This article was originally published in the February 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Post No Evil .

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