Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Twitter, publishing and a pissed off landlord

The Twitterverse and blogosphere have been abuzz with the lawsuit filed by Horizon Reality today targeting a woman, @JessB123, for bashing Horizon in a tweet.

According to the complaint filed in Cook County court today, Bonnen "maliciously and wrongfully published the false and defamatory Tweet on Twitter, thereby allowing the Tweet to be distributed throughout the world."

As pointed out by Kiyoshi Martinez on the Windy Citizen, this is far from the first complaint written about them online. It is also not the first about mold even.

So what about this one has cause such a stir? As best as I can tell there are really only two reasons this has become such a major story. First, this is absurd to anyone that uses Twitter or spends a good deal of time on the Internet. Second, this suit will become the “go to” case for many future libel cases targeting online publication.

Number one doesn't need much explanation, so onto number two. Is 140 characters, on a service free to everyone, publishing? The courts will be forced to define this to make a ruling. It will also lay the foundation for a very dangerous trend.

If something as simple and tiny as tweeting is considered publishing and not a form of conversation, then it is fair to guess that anything the size of and larger than a tweet will be considered publishing if the entirety of the Internet could potentially access it. That means every blog, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube video, and so forth, will now be considered a form of publication and as such can be brought up on libel charges.

Libel used to be difficult to commit because it was hard to be published. With the Internet though, publishing your own work is incredibly easy. To prove my point, you are reading this.

Here we are, 140 characters from an unhappy tenant, and we may all need to screen what we type from now on. At least it may land Perez Hilton in jail for a long time and keep him from cyberspace.

On the other hand though, if it is not a form of publishing, then we can all say whatever the hell we want through Twitter. Watch out Steve Ballmer, I have my 140 characters ready for you.

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