WordPress versus bloggers

On 6 January, Index reported that blogging platform WordPress had temporarily removed the site of the Bristol Blogger after receiving a letter claiming the blog had defamed academic Howard Newby.

Turns out the Bristol Blogger wasn’t the only person to be affected. A British academic blogger points out that his blog too, was censored by WordPress, after the company received a letter from Newby’s people.

It’s tempting to blame WordPress for this, and the haste with which they complied with the solicitors is a little worrying. But the problem here is of course, with the libel laws. WordPress could be liable for any content carried on their platforms, in the way distributors John Menzies and WH Smith could be held liable for content they distributed in the infamous John Major vs New Statesman case.

This really can’t go on.

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  1. Posted 19Jan10 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    It might help to remind readers that there is an important distinction between WordPress.com, which is a site offering free hosted blogs, and the WordPress blogging platform itself, which consists of software that users can download and host on their own server completely independently.

    Clearly the problem you are highlighting relates only to the former and would be an issue with any hosted blogging platform, including Blogger. It is generally a sounder idea to host a blog on your own server if possible since it gives you far more control over your content in circumstances like this.

    Of course, then you will potentially have the overly-cautious takedown policies of your webhost to navigate instead, but that’s a whole different argument…

  2. Posted 19Jan10 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    At least three bloggers were affected – the two you mentioned, and Sir Howard Newby Watch, which is still under suspension.

    SHNW (as caches show) featured only two posts, both made in March 2009; a brief introduction, and The Bristol Blogger’s July 2007 post about Sir Howard’s departure from the University of the West of England (UW), entitled ‘Good Night’.

    The Bristol Blogger has now pulled her/his own blog from public view due to avoid the possibility of losing their entire blog, and intends to republish it elsewhere in the future.

    Ecologics continues to fight the good fight.

    WordPress.com’s position has flipflopped between suggesting that it was legally required to withdraw the material from public view as soon as an accusation of defamation was made, regardless of the merits of any such claims, and suggesting that WP.com had [paraphrased] ‘reviewed the material and agreed it was defamatory’. WP.com has thus far declined to elaborate on what kind of legal review (if any) it had brought to bear in deciding that the complainant was correct in claiming defamation.

    The statements made by The Bristol Blogger (and repeated by SHNW) were based on previously published reports in the mainstream media (eg the Times Higher Education, The Guardian, Private Eye) which dealt with Sir Howard Newby’s time at UWE, his policies, and his (and his wife’s) involvement with management consultants hired by UWE. The Bristol Blogger’s blog posts about Sir Howard were from 2007; between their publication and WP.com’s takedown of the blog, there was no contact between Sir Howard, The University of Liverpool, UWE or any agents of Sir Howard or either university and The Bristol Blogger in relation to the blog posts.

    The posts by EcoLogics relating to Sir Howard were detailed, academic in nature and related to the type of management Sir Howard brought to bear on the universities he ran, within the broader context of the changes in higher education as a whole.

    The complaint against the three (or more) blogs hosted on WP.com came from Kevan Ryan, the director of legal services at the University of Liverpool, where Sir Howard Newby is currently vice-chancellor. Mr Ryan has not responded to direct requests for clarification about on whose behalf and in what capacity he was acting in his complaint to WP.com.

    A team of journalists and bloggers, plus sundry other interested parties, are all investigating the whys and wherefores of this intriguing situation.

    For more information on all this, see here.

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