Bloggers and the lawyers who order them to remove posts

Two friends I have made through blogging, one in Nashville and one in California, have received in the past 48 hours letters from lawyers insisting they remove things they have written in their blogs. Brittney Gilbert at Nashville is Talking is reporting with play-by-play links the saga of Katherine Coble’s experience with an ‘executive placement firm’ about which Katherine blogged. You can go to the Nashville is Talking post to follow the links, the responses and today’s take-down notice that threatens to, among other things, contact Katherine’s ISP, Comcast, to have her Internet access shut down if she does not comply with the request.

On the outpouring of comments on her post today, some Nashville bloggers are suggesting Katherine’s situation be taken up by some of the major bloggers. Ironically, as I was learning about Katherine’s plight I was exchanging some private emails with a major blogger, Dave Winer — one of the creators of all this blogging stuff — about a very similar matter.

On Monday, Dave received a letter from a lawyer demanding that he retract statements he made on Scripting News. As with the outpouring of comments on Katerine’s blog, the comments on Dave’s post yesterday and Monday, contain many gems of advice.

I break out in cold-sweats whenever I read about lawsuits and threatening letters. Call it post-traumatic-syndrome or whatever, it’s just not a topic I can easily write about.

I do know that Robert Cox of the Media Bloggers Association has devoted a lot of thought to such issues. Perhaps the most visible attempt at legal intimidation of a blogger was the infamous Warren Kremer Paino Advertising vs. Lance Dutson case that was dropped, primarily because of the outrage of bloggers against a government contractor suing a citizen blogger with the intent of bullying him into submission. After a few weeks of being beaten up by bloggers, the agency dropped the lawsuit.

I am not a lawyer, although I’ve paid lawyers a lot. What I’m about to suggest is not legal advice, rather it’s an observation for the bleachers.

If I were Katherine, I’d comply with the requests of the attorneys. She’s has made her point. She is right. Everyone knows it. The search gods of Google will forever find her words whether they are taken down or not. It’s not worth paying a lawyer anything to fight this.

If I were Dave, I’d do exactly what Dave is going to do: defend himself and in so doing, fight for people like Katherine.

Bonus links: Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee Law School professor, points to a paper he wrote on “libel in the blogosophere” for a Berkman Center Conference last year.

Quote from the paper:

“Blog-culture also frowns on libel suits, and threats of libel suits. Anyone threatening a blogger with legal action – even if that person is a blogger as well – can expect a generally hostile response from many, many other bloggers…When a non-blogger threatens such a suit, the result is usually even more fierce, resulting in far more bad publicity than the original statement is likely to have produced (publicity that, because of blogs’ strong representation in the Google ranking scheme, will be prominently displayed to anyone researching the threatener). In addition, bloggers and blog-readers tend to do their best to discover any other embarrassing matter regarding the threatener, adding an “Army of Davids” effect to the old lawyers’ saying that if you sue someone for libel, they’re “liable to prove it.”

In a display of what Reynolds is talking about, I just noticed a meme defining “Kirked” as a verb that means ruining ones reputation by trying to stiffle a blogger’s free speech is spreading around the Nashville blogosphere this evening. This perhaps can best be seen in a post by Bob Krumm that rains down some Google juice on the executive placement firm. Writes Bob:

“Not that I’m implying that J. L. Kirk & Associates, or Kirk Associates, or JL Kirk, or JLK, or JLK-A, or sometimes just Kirk are a scam, a fraud, a rip-off, or a con, I’m simply saying that their reported behavior certainly raises some red flags about J. L. Kirk & Associates, or Kirk Associates, or JL Kirk, or JLK, or JLK-A, or sometimes just Kirk; and their reported activities because they are similar to those of other companies who are scams, frauds, rip-offs, or cons.”

And he points to this Better Business Bureau report on J.L. Kirk & Associates.

Newscoma is maintaining a master list of Nashville bloggers’ reaction posts.

Another great list can be found at the blog, Salem’s Lot.