It’s nice to see the initiators of a frivolous or abusive lawsuit get their comeuppance. In this case, I am referring to the failed attempt by MagicJack to silence criticism through a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) against BoingBoing and blogger Rob Beschizza. Too often, faced by the high costs of going to court and the danger of losing, people who had been legitimately expressing an honestly held opinion (often one protected by constitutional law) are bullied into withdrawing their statement, or even paying a settlement. This is a particular danger in states that have terrible libel laws, like the United Kingdom. It is sad but understandable when firms take the safe course – such as when SuicideGirls when through their bout of unprovoked self-censorship. When someone has the guts to fight back, they deserve public recognition and support.
As such, kudos to BoingBoing and Mr. Beschizza. The $50,000 in legal costs they recovered aren’t enough for them to break even, but their example may have public value in deterring some future SLAPPs. There are strong positive externalities that result when organizations like BoingBoing take the courageous course and succeed. Such outcomes help to remind others that free expression is a vital aspect of free and democratic societies, and that attempts to suppress it through legal threats are inappropriate and anti-democratic. They also make it clear to potential filers of SLAPPs that they may end up with even more public embarrassment at the end of the process than they started out with.