“There is a chilling effect of a cease-and-desist letter or a legal threat that claims an aspect of a blogger’s work could lead to liability, even when those claims are not well grounded,” says Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit in San Francisco that defends digital rights.
Bloggers faced with legal threats often deem it easier to remove potentially offensive content rather than undertake the difficulty and expense of defending themselves, he adds.
Abroad, more than 60 bloggers arrested
Bloggers face much bigger threats overseas, particularly if they criticize governments or point to human rights abuses.
Since 2003, 64 bloggers have been arrested around the world – with Egypt, China, and Iran initiating more than half of those arrests, according to the World Information Access Report, published last month by the University of Washington. By contrast, the United States has arrested two in that period.
Still, online commentators face risks in the United States.
“In the developed world, bloggers can be punished through lawsuits,” writes Philip Howard, a communications professor at the University of Washington, in an e-mail.
The number of lawsuits is growing, says Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association (MBA), a US-based group devoted to protecting citizen journalists. “As blogging expands and more people are aware of it, the lawyers are not far behind.”