Since their introduction in the ‘90s, blogs have become a popular way for people to share news, thoughts, links, photos, and otherwise communicate online. In the music industry, it is a great place for music lovers and music journalists to post reviews of bands and albums.
But what if the band or album is plagued with artistic problems? Then what? Writing a scathing review might sound like a good idea in these situations, but is it wise? According to the Florida Intellectual Property, Entertainment Law and News Blog (along with other sources), it is possible to be sued for what you write in your blog. Among the reasons that a blogger might be sued is libel, which is defined as written defamation (injury to reputation).
Understanding the nature of defamation, even from a legal standpoint, is tricky, and each state has its own set of requirements for something to legally be considered libel. For the state of Alabama, the Birmingham Injury Blog states that the following four things are required to prove libel: publication, defamatory statement, specific to plaintiff, and intention.
Bill Goodman, coauthor of music blog The Soda Shop, says in regard to reviewing mediocre or bad albums, “Our policy is if we don’t like it, we don’t review it.” When they do decide to review a mediocre album, they “will point out some of the more finer [sic] points of the album. No negative reviews is [sic] a good review.” In this way, they avoid antagonizing the group of people their site supports.
Clara Rose Thornton, who has 11 years of professional experience as a writer, editor, and copyeditor for various national, international, regional, and local publications, shared her experiences concerning libel. According to Thornton, “The saying that ‘Once something gets printed, it’s true,’ is so true.” Once people read something, they have a tendency to believe it, she further explains. In order to prevent potentially libelous stories, she fact checks, does extensive research prior to her interview, after the interview she does more research and fact checking, faithfully quotes interviewees, and follows up with interviewees via email or phone if she has further questions or concerns.
Even if you follow the advice of these writers, and even if your review is good, there’s still a chance that someone may still be insulted by the publication.
In her 11 years as a journalist, Thornton says that she has only had a few potential problems with any of her articles, none of which have become legal issues. For example, a band once publicly berated Thornton on her Facebook page for being unprofessional after they had read nothing more than a preview of a biography she had written about them. This treatment continued even after the piece was published. The reason for this, Thornton explained, was that she was unable to get a formal interview, due to the state of everyone when she was finally able to get an interview (it was after the show, around 3 a.m., after there had been drinking). Because she had previously written stories about the band and the show she covered was not a newsworthy event, she took a more “metaphorical” approach to the article she wrote, which the band appeared to not appreciate. In the end, Thornton said it was a “regrettable experience.”