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courting disaster

canada's supreme court, less cute than shown
it may have flown below most people's radar that the canadian supreme court is to render a decision today that could cast a huge legal pall over the internet in canada, effectively shackling professional journalists, amateur bloggers... pretty much anyone who knows how to post a link. because the decision they're making is on whether or not hyperlinking to a site critical of a person, business or organisation can constitute libel.

note, this doesn't mean that the person responsible actually had any hand in creating the critical content [which would clearly fall under libel laws]- the case hinges on whether or not simply directing someone's attention to it constitutes an illegal act. viewed in terms of print journalism, that would be like requiring that a reporter who seeks to mention the name of book on their subject be responsible for verifying all the research included in that book. of course, that would also mean that the reporter would be responsible for verifying all of the information included in works cited by that book. you can see where this is leading.

the fact is, however, that we wouldn't place those demands on even professional journalists, let alone amateurs writing for a local newsletter [which is, essentially what most bloggers are] in any forum other than the internet.

a while back, i posted a link to a story on republican presidential candidate rick santorum [there is no way in hell i'm posting a link to a google search for that guy's name until i know which way today's decision goes] to my facebook account. i had a few responses to the effect that the author's flippant and exaggerated commentary made it clear that he was prejudiced against mr. santorum [no argument there] and that therefore the whole article should be dismissed as fiction. i responded by posting links to "serious" publications verifying the story to make it clear that, while the presentation might not have been particularly professional, it was dealing with true events. here's the thing: i just copied the links from the bottom of the story i'd originally posted. they were always right there, should anyone have chosen to click on them.

if this debate had occurred thirty years ago, anyone seeking to verify a story would have had to go to their local library and hope that they could access the sources cited. but very few people would have done so and chances are that the article would have simply been accepted or dismissed, probably based on the pre-existing opinions of the person reading it. although it is many times easier to fact-check articles on the internet, there seems to be the expectation that anyone who posts information has a responsibility greater than any other type of journalist to provide and vet their sources. if this case were about a newspaper, or radio station or television station, it would never have seen the inside of a small claims court, much less the supreme court of canada.

this would be sort of ludicrously funny if it weren't for the fact that public money, our money, collected in the form of taxes and service fees, given in trust to our representatives in government, is being used to fund it. i expect the supreme court, much like the lower court whose decision is being appealed, will rule against the plaintiff. but that doesn't make it any less insulting that the case has made it this far, or that those of us who enjoy having a forum to air opinions are stuck holding our breath, waiting to find out just how stupid the legal system can get.

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