Internet expression, long-held rights come into conflict – Houston Chronicle Explains the ever changes internet users rights.Posted by Rose in All Things Anna Nicole Smith, Amanda Bush, Anna Nicole Smith, Anna Nicole Smith's Will, Art Harris, Art Harris Exclusive, Art Harris Scoop, Bald Truth Exclusive, Bonnie Stern, Bryan Cave LLP, CBS-ET, Celebrity Trials, Charles "Chip" Babcock, Chip Babcock, Daniel Smith, Dannielynn, Debunking the myths on ALL cases related to Anna Nicole, Diana Marshall, Entertainment Tonight, Harry Susman, Harvey Levin, High Proflie Trials, Howard K Stern, Larry Birkhead, Lin Wood, Luke Lantta, Lyndal Harrington, Nancy Hamilton, Neil McCabe, Rose Turner, Susman and Godfrey, Teresa Stephens, The O'Quinn Law Firm, TMZ, TMZ.com, Virgie Arthur, What legal responsiblity do bloggers have
Anonymity of some threatened; others try to bury public records
By MARY FLOOD
Sept. 21, 2009, 6:06AM
Freedom of expression may seem boundless on the Internet, but in Houston and around the nation, computer users are increasingly finding their speech is not infinitely protected.
Recent Harris County cases have shown that the worldwide forum offered by the Internet ups the ante and consequences of everything from idle chatter to the information in public records.
Dave Heller, staff lawyer for the Media Law Resource Center in New York, said anonymous bloggers and commenters might have “reason to pause in the current climate” because of cases around the country where judges have ordered their names revealed in court cases.
At the same time, he said, courts are trying to strike a balance between public access and privacy as their own records become more accessible.
“Some people are naturally freaked out,” he said, when public documents move from musty courthouses to online.
What was gossip over coffee before the Internet becomes a permanent stain viewable by the universe once posted. What were once obscure but long-public government documents, become potential identity theft time bombs and privacy invasion headaches when easily accessible online.
In Houston just this summer, the specific demands of the law smashed up against the Web in these instances involving speech and public records:
• • Two bloggers, [Lyndal Harrington and Teresa Stephens], who posted their opinions, or hosted the thoughts of others about Anna Nicole Smith’s mother were stunned when they were jailed for contempt of court for refusing to give the court their computers for forensic review. …
…”Courts continually struggle to interpret and apply free speech and privacy laws that were written generations ago with newspapers in mind”, said Chip Babcock, a Texas media lawyer who represents journalist Art Harris, sued along with several bloggers in the defamation case filed by Anna Nicole Smith’s mother, Virgie Arthur. “The Internet is such a powerful tool and such a potentially intrusive thing that judges are being pulled away from the model.”
In the Arthur defamation case, Harris County District Judge Tony Lindsay temporarily imprisoned two bloggers and confiscated the computers of Babcock’s entertainment journalist client.
A more common problem for bloggers and commenters is losing just their anonymity when they’ve made negative comments and are sued for defamation. …
…Most newspapers and electronic media fight back to some extent but most also post warnings that the media will relinquish identity information if required to in a legal proceeding. Trying to keep everyday speech on these Web sites secret has been a losing battle.
Another place law and the Internet are clashing locally is in district courts as Harris County District Clerk Loren Jackson is swiftly updating the system and putting public records online…
…These growing pains are likely to continue as local and federal the laws are applied to the content on the Internet, which the U.S. Supreme Court has called essentially the most democratic mass media ever invented.
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