We can start with the moral of the story, because it’s so often the moral of these kinds of stories: Always read the fine print. Especially if you’re planning legal action. It might just save costly mistakes later on.
The mistake in question belongs to Diane Wargo, a woman who wrote to blogger Perez Hilton in December of 2007 to inform him that he was a “FAT GAY PIG” and that Angelina Jolie was a “dirty whore.” You’d think that such opinions are best kept to yourself, and you’d be right; Hilton – real name Mario Lavendiera – published the entire email on December 27 as his Email of The Day, including Wargo’s name and email address, which led to her receiving all manners of threatening emails and eventually being fired from her job. As a result, she filed a lawsuit against Hilton, asking for $25 million in damages.
Now, five years later, the lawsuit is over – and things didn’t go Wargo’s way. Arbitrator Richard Neal found in favor of Hilton, noting that Wargo should have know that anything she shared with the popular blog would be potential publication fodder, especially considering one of the terms of conditions of the site is a warning that those who “post content or submit material … grant [Hilton] a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual … right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish … distribute, and display such content throughout the world in any media.”
“The notion that a site specializing in raunchy gossip would promise privacy for such content or to the names of those providing the content is not a reasonable expectation,” Neal explained in his arbitration ruling. “Privacy of content is contrary to the essential function of the site. And in any event, the governing sections of the conditions, as noted, explicitly confer a license and right upon [Hilton] to use submitted material and name the submitter.”
That wasn’t the only bad news for Wargo; Neal also rejected her claim that Hilton’s publication of the email was the reason she lost her job, noting that her writing the email was to blame. He pointed to the company policy at her previous place of employment that not only prohibited the personal use of company email – and that email to Hilton was certainly not business-related – but also cautioned against using the Internet to distribute “offensive material,” which the email would also be in deep violation of. Whether or not the email had been published, he reasoned, Wargo was in violation of those guidelines.
So yeah, again, guys, you should read the fine print before expressing your opinions. There are, of course, other morals to be offered. For example: Don’t write offensive emails to gossip websites in the first place. And if you absolutely have to, don’t do it from your work email account.