The term “online” is defined as “connected to, served by, or available through a system and especially a computer system (such as the internet)”[i]
The apex court in the land, in its judgment, defined defamation as,
“Consisting of a statement written or published of or concerning a person and calculated to lower him in the estimation of reasonable or ordinary persons, or cause him to be avoided or shunned by such persons or to expose him to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to convey an imputation him disparaging or injurious to him in his office, profession, calling, trade or business”[ii].
Park B. in Parmiter v. Coupland[iii] also defined a defamatory statement as that which is calculated to injure the reputation of another, by exposing him to hatred or ridicule.
Flowing from the above, a joint definition of the concept “online defamation” can be couched as any written or published statement calculated to lower the esteem, expose to hatred, contempt, or ridicule of a person in his office, profession through the instrument of the internet, a computer system by an internet user.
A blog is essentially a constantly updated website that is (primarily) managed by one person and contains the writer’s views, news, information, opinions, experiences, etc. The development of blogs throughout time demonstrates how quickly blogging has established itself as the primary method of disseminating information about creative material.
Internet users such as bloggers are business people who thrive on content posted on the internet accompanied by internet traffic to generate revenue for consumption. Oftentimes, these contents are not well filtered, and as a result, allegations, indictments, and civil and criminal suits can emanate from such acts by the blogger.
Strictly put, there is no online immunity for bloggers. Consequently, content posted on the internet can place liabilities on such users. Bloggers are legally liable for what they feed the public via the internet. Despite the fact that blogging has the potential to be a significant source of income for entrepreneurs and investors, it also has the potential to enhance operators’ legal exposure if certain legal and operational ethical measures are not observed.
Liabilities of bloggers
Defamation is an implication of libel or slander, or both. A libel suit is the most common lawsuit against a blogger, it is defined as any written or published false statement, writing, picture, or sign about an individual that causes harm to the individual’s reputation. The appellate court in OKOLI v. EZEIFE[iv] as,
“a specie of the tort of defamation which consists in the making of a defamatory statement in some permanent and visible form, such as writing, printing, pictures or edifices.”
It is important to emphasize that blogging could result in both civil and criminal liability since the practice has grown in popularity in Nigeria. A person convicted of the criminal charge could face up to two (2) years imprisonment[v]. A civil lawsuit could be filed against the blogger if someone felt wronged and sought damages. In the event that a blogger is charged or sued, the affected party must establish, as highlighted in OLOGE v. NEW AFRICA HOLDINGS LTD, that,
- There was a written statement or words
- The statement/words were written by the defendant
- The statement/words were written on or concerning him
- The statement/words are/are calculated and intended to disparage his reputation and character, as to lower him in the estimation of his community
- The statement/words were/were communicated or published to a third party apart from him by the defendant.[vi]
Therefore, bloggers need to make sure that they check the information they get before publishing, and if in doubt, they should hold off, or else they fall prey to the sanctioning law.
A blogger can be held liable for criminal offenses, including sedition and incitement, in addition to libel, which is a tort. Sedition is an act, speech, or publication made inciting insurrection against the established order[vii] while Incitement is the encouragement of another (public) to do an act or make an omission to commit a crime[viii]. Influential bloggers who publish material that incites the public to commit a crime will be held liable for the crime as if they were the ones who committed it.
Another typical action brought against blog operators or bloggers is trademark infringement. Similar to copyright infringement, trademark infringement happens when a host or blogger makes use of a registered trademark without the owner’s consent.
Violations of Trade Secrets can impose liability on an offender like trademarks and copyrights, trade secrets are important forms of confidential data. The owner of the trade secrets may pursue legal damages from the blogger or website host if such material is posted online by a blog or website.
Another liability incurred by bloggers is copyright infringement on websites which occurs when a website takes protected intellectual information from another source and publishes it on its website without authorization from the copyright holder. An original work’s creator is granted the sole right to use and distribute their work, which is known as copyright. The art of blogging entails using the internet to share both literary and visual content, giving bloggers a powerful means of self-expression. The reality of blogging, though, is that content posted on one blog or online platform is frequently stolen and used illegally on other blogs or online platforms, breaching copyright, and this is punished when proven.
In Peter Obe v. Grapevine Communications Ltd[ix], the Court held that the Defendants’ act of publishing the plaintiff’s photograph in a book without authorization or license was an infringement of the plaintiff’s copyright. Also, altering or retouching an image without attribution to the copyright owner would amount to copyright infringement.
Violations of the right to privacy are another typical legal claim made against webmasters or bloggers. A violation of a person’s right to be free from interference with or public disclosure of information of a personal nature gives rise to invasion of privacy claims. As a result, if blog entries contain private information that hurts a person, that person may file a lawsuit against the person who wrote or hosted the information.
In conclusion, some bloggers opt for disclaimers, as a way to evade liabilities. A disclaimer is a formal written statement that restricts a blogger’s or host’s liability by making it clear to readers that the blogger or host is not responsible for the content of the blog. Waivers can range from being as brief and concise as a few phrases at the bottom of a website to being much longer and more detailed and placed on a website’s terms and conditions. Another way out of liability is not releasing anything that is slanderous or defamatory against another person or company. Also, obtaining the owner’s consent is necessary to access protected content. It is necessary for a blog owner or author, now embattled in a litigation issue involving an Internet blog, to get in touch with a qualified legal practitioner so as to either enforce its rights or mitigate its liabilities through the instrument of the law.
[i] 2022 Merriam-Webster, Inc.
[ii] Standard Chartered Bank (Nig.) Ltd. V. Ameh (2022) 15 NWLR, Ayeni v. Adesina (2007) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1033) 233 referred
[iii] (1840) 6 M & W 105 at 108
[iv] (2017) LPELR-42846 (CA)
[v] section 373 Criminal Code Act Cap. C38, LFN 2004 (CCA)
[vi] (2013) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1384) 449 referred
[vii] Section 50 Criminal Code Act
[viii]Section 513 Criminal Code Act.
[ix] 40 NIPJD [FHC 1997] 1244/1997
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