Interview: Alex Villafania – Libel and Copyright in Blogging

The two important legal questions constantly an issue with bloggers and other online media practitioners is libel and copyright. interviewed a number of friends about libel and copyright. Here is the interview with online reporter Alex Villafania – who previously worked for and is now finishing his graduate studies. What is Libel? or More specifically what is Libel in the Philippine setting and how does it affect on-line media practitioners?

Alex: Here’s a definition of libel from the revised penal code –“A libel is public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect,real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.”

This law is very vague and only a few libel cases have led to conviction. The merits of these decisions are also in question. Take note also that this law is outdated, even by media standards. It is based on the revised penal code of 1930s, predating World War 2 and certainly before digital media.

Let me emphasize that libel has certain elements before it can become a full judicial case, one of which is intent of malice. Many journalists get away with libel because they are able to produce factual data that are basis for their stories. Is the blogger or on-line media practitioner liable for comments said/posted on his blog, forum or website?

Alex: If the law is to be strictly followed, to the last word, yes. Because blogs and online media are public communiques, and are read by more than two people (libel requires 3 people or so — the 2 parties involved and a third-party to actually hear it), they can put under the libel clause.

Article 355 states that “a libel committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means, shall be punished by prision correccional….in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party.” That also includes articles written in forums, email and yes, online stories and blogs.

Again, let me emphasize that the way the article is written can be weapon against the blogger. If the blogger is able to produce the necessary documents, eye-witness and other substantial evidence that strengthens the argument in question, they can be let off. However, thehighlight of blogging is that it is the opinion of the writer and does not need to conform to traditional media standards. Still, libel, by its very nature, can still apply to blogging and all forms of digital media only because it sweeps across all forms of communications methods. What can a blogger or on-line media practioner do to avoid libel? What shoudl one keep in mind in when writing or composing content for the Web?

Alex: This is a very tricky question primarily because an outdated law is being forced upon new methods of communication. A case can only be filed if a person in question is within national jurisdiction. If national extradition treaties are expanded, it can cover all criminal
and civil cases. Brian Gorrell would be charged with libel by the Australian government if the Philippines has extensive judicial partnerships with them. However, there are none for now and only
certain level of criminal cases are subject to extradition treaties. Gorrell, by the lack of any cross-border judicial partnerships, is free to air his opinions.

Bloggers and similar forms of communication methods including social networking and microblogging, should not yet be subject to libel laws of any country until the revised penal code is re-revised to accommodate digital means. Even if the law has sweeping views of what platforms are used, it does not necessarily mean that digital media is already within its scope. In contrast, lawyers can argue that the lack of such provisions that include digital media in libel does not mean that people online are not liable as well. This is very tricky and one that should fall within a debate among those involved.

Still, bloggers can still enjoy their freedom. but to avoid legal inconveniences, i would suggest that bloggers, on a broader sense, should stick to ethical standards of writing, just as they have to follow the standards of grammar and spelling. It is not one for a blogger to destroy the reputation of another person without duly presenting the right evidence. Bloggers are also citizens and as such, must exercise responsibility in their actions. There are many rules that are being developed among blogging communities but one important rule is to be accountable for your statements. Another issue among bloggers and on-line media persons is Intellectual property whether it be a post, a photograph, a video or even a sound file. What can be done to protect one’s Intellectual property?

Alex: The IPO Philippines has yet to come up with clear cut rules about intellectual property online. For now, current laws should suffice.

Because there are no moral and ethical regulations that dominate the internet, IPRs remain unprotected. Again, if the act of copyright infringement or IPR violations are done in one country, the violator may not be charged in the country of the aggrieved party.

However, third party companies are developing applications to ensure IPR and copyright laws are managed, if not enforced. digital rights management is one of these. but these are expensive and only apply to high-profile intellectual property by big companies. For ordinary users, they can apply certain available technologies to protect themselves from their materials from being copied. these include putting watermarks in their photos, video and even sound clips. even if their material is copied, people who view them would still know the original source. If a blogger or on-line media practitioner discovers his photo or post has been used without permission what are the steps that can be taken if the theft was done by another on-line media practitioner or another media entity – for example a magazine, newspaper or TV Show?

Alex: We’ve done this in As stated earlier, current IPR laws can be applied and usually, the violators are slapped w/ a legal warning or even a lawsuit. Normally, violators comply for fear of legal impediments. even ordinary people can ask for legal help to protect themselves as long as they can prove that they have the original material with them.


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2 Responses to Interview: Alex Villafania – Libel and Copyright in Blogging

  1. Pingback: How Does the Libel Law Apply to Bloggers?

  2. lagalog says:

    thanks for this enlightening post Juned. It’s high time we get ourselves acquainted with these matters. I also wonder if this is the right time to discuss violations of blogger rights as well such as theft of images, demands by companies to retract or delete previous posts that concern complaints against their violations as well as responsible blogging/full disclosure, etc.

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