One v. Shechter et al, Critical Bloggers Beware.

Israeli Bloggers Raviv Shechter, Oded Kramer and Shlomo Man (known as Jaggermeister) recieved a lawsuit for defamation by ‘One‘, an Israeli sport portal which it’s manager is said to have relations to criminals and covers, amongst other things, gossip around Soccer and other sports. The Website, which is owned partialy by Israel’s most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronot, is suing  the three for 2,000,000 ILS (around 600,000 US$), claiming that the three damaged One’s reputation by calling it “The Party and Gossip Site” and claiming that the website is run like a train-station, when employees are replaced frequently and the website avoids basic journalist ethics.

The story began around March, when Tapuz, the website which hosted the blog then, received a letter requesting to reveal the identiy of JaggerMeister, an anonymous blogger who wrote the blog for the last year after Shechter and Kramer opened it and managed the blog in the first few months. Tapuz blocked and edited some of the content (which actually may inflict liability on it) pursuant to a letter from Shay Elias, One’s attorney. Following the removal, Jaggermeister decided to stop writing the blog and transferred it to Themis, which dedided to move the blog to since it has stricter protection for user generated content.

Last week, One decided to file a lawsuit against the three, when it is not certain how it got to Jaggermeister’s identity and whether their aassumption that Shlomo Man is Jaggermeister is indeed true. Another group of bloggers critical on One closed their blog in fear of legal actions, and Themis, Jaggermeister’s replacement, claims to write only from internet cafes and with a spoofed MAC address.

The major concern here is from One’s parent company’s conduct: Yedioth, a major corporation in Israel had merged with One earlier last year and now has some control over it. Yedioth has its own integrity to keep as a newspaper, and suing critics, even critics who use a harsh language, is bad for business. Yedioth will have to do something about One before it is too late.

This Tuesday I’ll be going to the Parliament to discuss Israel Hasson‘s “Talkback” bill*; this draft is a quick evolution of his last anti-anonymity bill which was rejected. If passed, the bill will state that website operators with over than 50,000 pageviews per day are directly liable for slander and privacy breaches performed on their website by users, anonymous or not. This bill has material legal issues involving privacy, private property and freedom of expression, however this is not the time to discuss them. It is, however, quite important to know what might have happened had the bill passed into law.

* Israel calls user submitted comments Talkbacks for some reason, without it being used anywhere else in the world and without using “Tguvut”, the Hebrew equivalent

Had Hason’s proposal been in power, Tapuz, directly in competition with Yedioth, would have been liable to all that was written in the blog and would have closed it down immediately, making all criticism unavailable as it may violate some 3rd party’s good  name. Also, Tapuz would have been required to operate a team of lawyers inspecting all user generated content. Moreover, Bloggers wouldn’t have been allowed to remain anonymous and therefore no one would have heard this criticism about One, which was casted by the shadow of anonymity which Jaggermeister thought could protect him from unethical legal actions against him to silence him.

Where anonymous posting is removed, anonymous voting will be next, then will come voting at all.

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