Now, we have a fine opportunity to see how people think about free speech on the internet when the politics are turned around. Seeing the Forest for the Trees tells us:
Lee Kaplan writes at David Horowitz's far-right, anti-Muslim FrontPageMag.com. A college student set up the blog Lee Kaplan Watch to expose what the guy is writing. He was sued by Kaplan in small claims court for "business interference," and Kaplan won $7500.The Yale law students are thinking big, going to federal court (relying on a very minor copyright claim to leverage a complicated collection of state law claims) and seeking over $200,000. Kaplan took the opposite approach: He sued in small claims court. He won $7500, because he only sued for $7500 -- the most you can ask for in small claims court in California.
The blogger -- Yaman Salahi -- writes:
My speech has been punished by a ruling with no opinion explaining why or advising me what not to do in the future. My credibility has been tarnished by a trial with incredibly low standards for admissible evidence and a messy, inconsistent court procedure. And, for me, worst of all: I will never know what element of Kaplan's claim, if any, the judge agreed with, though Kaplan will certainly continue to claim that all of them were accepted, though he knows well that this is not the case.So, thinking small looks like an effective way to squelch speech. Many people who write on the internet don't have much money, and $7500 (plus legal fees) is a lot to pay for writing something. Worse, if the court's opinion doesn't explain what you did wrong, how can you keep writing? You have to worry about the next small claims lawsuit.
Note: I have not looked into the underlying facts of this case or the practices and procedures of the court. It's quite possible that the blogger really did libel Lee Kaplan or commit some other tort and that the court proceeded fairly. I simply want to call this case to your attention to consider alongside the AutoAdmit case.
Seeing the Forest concludes:
This is a freedom of speech and right-to-blog issue. We must do something to reverse this because it will become a convenient way for right-wingers to harass all of us.Oh, how short-sighted we are! Are you going to become a free-speech champion when the plaintiff is a right-winger and a big fan of tort law when the plaintiffs' claims resonate with feminist ideology? That's not the way law works.
UPDATE: You can listen to the NPR story on AutoAdmit here. None of my quotes were used. Here's the AutoAdmit discussion thread which has the guys listening to the story in real time, expressing their annoyance at the intervening news stories -- "Stupid Daniel Schorr talking about stupid George Bush!/How in f*ck did he ever get on the radio? He sounds like he had a stroke" --- and opining "Althouse got slighted." After the show: "Hands down fairest coverage this board has ever received. i love npr." "I like how they suggested GTO getting offerpwn3d would be some consolation to the Ps." GTO is Anthony Ciolli (the site's "educational director") had a job offer rescinded after the controversy hit the media.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Salahi has a thoughtful essay on his predicament here.