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Sex, Power, Blogs -- and Lawyers

The case of Steinbuch v. Cutler has all the makings of a cyberlaw classic, says Eric Goldman at his Technology & Marketing Law Blog: "It's got sex, power, politics, blogs, and sex." Not to mention a high-profile lawyer as plaintiff. As if these ingredients were not enough for a cyberlaw potboiler, the case now has a notorious blogger for a defendant -- Ana Marie Cox, formerly known as D.C. gossip blogger Wonkette and now a Washington editor for Time magazine. For those who may not recall the lurid details of the "Washingtonienne" case, Goldman offers this refresher:

"Jessica Cutler was an intern on the Hill and engaged in multiple simultaneous relationships. She then commenced an affair with Robert Steinbuch, a staff counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. She documented some of the affair's lurid details on a 'private blog' that allegedly was just for a few of her closest friends. Although she never used Robert Steinbuch's name in full, she relayed enough details that his identity was deducible by others. Then, the details on this 'private blog' became very public when picked up by Wonkette, one of the largest blogs around. Ultimately, Steinbuch sued Cutler for invasion of privacy and emotional distress."

Since filing the original complaint and surviving Cutler's motion to dismiss, Steinbuch -- now a law professor -- sought leave of court to amend his complaint to add Cox as a defendant. In a ruling Oct. 30, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman granted the motion, but did so with reservations. Those reservations are well founded, says Goldman, who believes that Cox should be protected from liability under 47 U.S.C. 230:

"Cox's behavior should be preempted by 47 USC 230 (a statute not cited by the court in this ruling). Pursuant to 47 USC 230, Cox cannot be liable for linking from Wonkette to Cutler's blog, nor should Cox be liable for quoting the blog if the words were written by Cutler."

At the blog Internet Cases, Evan D. Brown says that the case could prove to be an example of "linker beware." Noting, as did Goldman, that the judge was "troubled by plaintiff's approach to this case," Brown says time will tell whether Cox remains a defendant.

"But the practical question to be extracted from this case is, will the specter of being sued just for linking to another site slow down the wheels of the gossip mill?"

Somehow I doubt that will happen.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 14, 2006 at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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