Blogging lawsuit

By Sean Aqui | Related entries in Blogging, Law, Media, News, Satire

A Minnesota-based blogger is suing another blogger in a case that could have larger implications for bloggers as a whole.

It all started with a phone call to Aaron Clarey, informing him that he’d been branded a racist.

Clarey, a Minneapolis economist, blogger and radio host, traced the accusation to a physics laboratory in California. There, a graduate student named Sanjay Krishnaswamy had created a blog on which he posed as Clarey — photograph and all — and posted comments about “miserable brown wetbacks” and why “blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites.”

Krishnaswamy’s lawyer says the fake blog was clearly a parody, an over-the-top production meant to draw attention to the real Clarey’s “outrageous” viewpoints.

But when word of the phony blog reached Clarey’s employers in Minnesota, he says he found himself facing the potential loss of his community-education gigs teaching finance courses and salsa dance classes, not to mention his reputation.

That’s why Clarey, a libertarian who blogs under the name “Captain Capitalism,” is suing Krishnaswamy.

I can’t find a link to the fake blog — perhaps it’s been taken down due to the lawsuit — but Clarey’s blog is here.

As a brief aside, since we’re on the subject of lawsuits, is Clarey infringing on a copyright with his alter ego?

Back on topic: It’s sleazy to create a blog posing as someone else unless the intent is clearly parody. The question, then, is what is meant by “clearly.” Since I can’t find the fake blog, the strength of its “parody” argument is impossible to judge.

Anonymity isn’t really the problem here. People who post under pseudonyms — like me — may be shielded from real life personal consequences of what we write, but our words are still our own, and our credibility rises and falls based on those words. And if it came down to criminal activity, I’m sure that Blogger would roll over for a subpoena demanding my true identity, which I imagine could be tracked down through IP numbers.

So the problem is impersonation. And not just any impersonation, but impersonation with the intent to harm the reputation of the target by posting lies about him.

But there are other considerations. Is Clarey a public figure? Most likely, thanks to his prominence as an economist and radio host. But let’s look past him. Is blogging alone enough to make someone a public figure?

The question is important, because public figures have a much harder time winning suits like this one. I can call President Bush a Nazi without fear; I could conceivably be sued if I wrote that my neighbor is a Nazi. I could create a fake blog purportedly written by Bush without fear; can I do the same with Aaron Clarey? Or some random blogger I happen to dislike?

Which is why this case bears watching. It could help define the legal status of bloggers, as well as the limits of parody in the blog world.


This entry was posted on Thursday, October 5th, 2006 and is filed under Blogging, Law, Media, News, Satire. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 Responses to “Blogging lawsuit”

  1. Blog watcher Says:

    The blog would appear to be at aaronclarey.blogspot.com. It also doesn’t impersonate Clarey right now. It did, but was converted to the third person as soon as Clarey requested that it not be published in the first person, so Clarey appears to be suing more to shut down free speech than anything else. It also carries no “false claims” of any fact – it links to racist sentiments on the “Captain Capitalism” blog.

  2. Sean Aqui Says:

    I found that one, but I didn’t think it was the same. Do you have actual knowledge that it used to impersonate him and was since changed, or are you speculating?

  3. Blog watcher Says:

    That’s the one. You can easily confirm by searching the blog archives that it was in first person and stopped way back in June, and the blog says so too.

  4. Blog watcher Says:

    As, I suppose, do Clarey’s own ample comments there; in fact he appears to have been the first commenter, right when the blog opened.

  5. Captain Capitalism Says:

    Hi Guys,

    Just wanted to calm any fears that the law suit is about quelching the freedom of speech. The impersonation web site in its previous form was certainly an impersonation, face, name, e-mail everything. In its current form it’s debateable if its defamitory, though people have the right to lay whatever criticism they want.

    Regardless, wanted to make sure that people knew the intention is not to somehow limit the freedom of speech.

    Additionally, I’m betting nuts to bolts “Blog Watcher” is Sanjay himself.

    Enjoy!

  6. Entelliblog » Blog Archive » Verio Adds Free Blogging and Photo Gallery Tools Says:

    [...] Blogging lawsuitDonklephant - Oct 5, 2006… Most likely, thanks to his prominence as an economist and radio host. But let s look past him. Is blogging alone enough to make someone a public figure? … [...]

  7. Sanjay Fan Says:

    I don’t get it… what is Clarey suing for? Seems like Sanjay is just ragging on the guy for the whacked things that he said. As for the impersonation thing, he stopped doing the impersonation, so Clarey just wants monetary damages now?

    Also, why did Clarey remove all the things that Sanjay is criticizing? Seems to me that Clarey got called on his offensive comments and now he is doing clean up. As if that will get his credibility back. Yeah, I live in MN and I have heard the guy on 1500. Now that he has deleted and cleaned up his blog it seems like he is scared – I don’t know what to think of him. Frankly, this makes him look like an @$$.

    Also, how is he getting around MN Stat 543.19 subd 1(a)(3)? Basically it says that MN will not exercise personal jurisdiction over out of state tort defendants when the cause of action lies in defamation or privacy. The attorneys are going to have to get the courts to ignore the legislature. Good luck with that! I also do not understand the whole state court thing… I suppose the amount in controvery is not high enough.

    This one will be fun to watch. I cannot imagine that Clarey prevails…

  8. Web 2.0 » Blog Archives » SOASTA Founder Talks SOA And Services Says:

    [...] Donklephant - Oct 5, 2006… on Thursday, October 5th, 2006 and is filed under General, Blogging, Satire, Media, Law. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. … Continue [...]

  9. M. Lee Says:

    Krishnaswamy spent years trolling Clarey’s blog under dozens of pseudonyms. At first, Claret welcomed the difference of opinion but Krishnawamy became obsessed. Considering how long he took to get his PHD from Berkeley, I imagine Krishnaswamy was doing more blog commenting and blog impersonation than graduate research.

    Krishnaswamy is a race-baiter. There is nothing on Clarey’s blog that is racist per se. Many of his followers are black. Similar sentiments can be found on Another Black Conservative. Krishnaswamy as a hypersensitive liberal Indian thinks he has exclusive rights to the definition of “racist.”

    His initial impersonation violated Google’s terms of service. That was the reason he changed the anti-blog. Clarey is hardly a well known economist and radio personality in all but the loosest terms. Speaking on a radio station a few times doesn’t open up someone to defamation.

    California, where Krishnaswamey lived is more protective of speech than other states. He got away from legal responsibility, but he’s an absolute nutter to spend most of his spare time trolling obscure blogs and making a personal mission out of attacking someone whose views are far from racist.

  10. cranky critter Says:

    I can easily imagine Clarey prevailing, given that by these accounts he can demonstrate clear harm to his personal life.

    If you’re going to parody someone, what’s the big fricken deal about including an “about this blog” that says “no, not really” or something like that. You don’t have a right to misrepresent someone.

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