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Courts May Start Blog Libel Crackdown

A series of recent lawsuits is challenging an assumption about blogging - that most bloggers are judgment-proof because they're average Joes without money or clout.

More than 50 lawsuits in the past two years, stemming from postings on blogs and website message boards, have been filed across the nation, and many of those suits filed for libel, defamation or privacy violations have sought not just cash but the silencing of the blogger, writes USA Today. The result is that the blogosphere, a bastion of free speech and publishing, might be changing libel law - ostensibly to the detriment of free speech.

The legal battles range from revelations of sexual escapades among Senate aides to gossip over men whom women have dated (DontDateHimGirl.com) to a lewd hoax page on MySpace set up by students in the name of their assistant principal.

The chief danger is the potential chilling effect the lawsuits could have on free speech, according to Robert Cox, founder and president of the 1,000-member Media Bloggers Association. It's time for bloggers to bone up on libel law, he says.

"It hasn't happened yet, but soon, there will be a blogger who is successfully sued and who loses his home," he is quoted as saying. "That will be the shot heard round the blogosphere."

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