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The Strange Case Of Lance Dutson

David A. Utter
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-04-29

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A Maine-based blogger has been sued for copyright infringement, defamation, and libel for posting complaints about a Maine tourism campaign.

How far does free speech go online? Dutson's role as defendant in a case brought by the creator of a tourism ad campaign for the state of Maine, Warren Kremer Paino, may determine that. Dutson has been a critic of the state government and of the contractors Maine brought in to do this work.

Dutson copied an ad created for a January 2006 presentation made to the state government for the tourism program. The ad was part of a PowerPoint presentation, and is still available on the state's website (hat tip to Publishing 2.0 blogger Scott Karp for pointing to it.)

The firm claims copyright infringement has been committed. It probably did not help that the sample phone number on the ad just happens to connect to the kind of phone service a lonely person might call out of sexual desperation. Or that Dutson made note of that.

Predictably, fallout online has begun to take form. TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington drew from his legal background in criticizing the plaintiff:

Warren Kremer Paino, the plaintiff, should be ashamed of itself for taking this to court, and their reputation, as well as that of their client, the state of Maine, will certainly take a hit for this.

Based on the facts as I understand them right now, this lawsuit is ridiculous. I've canceled my plans to attend Pop!Tech this year, and I will not do business with any of the advertising agency's clients or write about them. I will also contribute to a legal defense fund if Lance sets one up.

Pop!Tech is a technology conference held in Camden, Maine, in October; Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble also suggested he may skip the event as well, but Dutson urged him via a comment in Scoble's blog to attend anyway.

John Palfrey from the Berkman Center at Harvard Law posted about the issue. Palfrey's view: "My view is that a lawsuit of this sort should have to clear a very high bar before a court awards damages to the design firm, especially where the core discussion is a matter of political speech in which a citizen is commenting on the activities of a state agency of his home state."

Now comes the kicker. Dutson competes with the state of Maine's Office of Tourism for keyword advertising on Google AdWords and Yahoo's Overture:

What occurs when the MOT bids for the top spot for these terms is that every other bidder has to pay more to be featured prominently on the page. So, my web design business was forced to pay more per-click because the VisitMaine site was occupying the top spot for ‘Camden Maine web design'. This has driven the AdWords and Overture pricing up for every business in Maine for several years, and the result would be thousands and thousands of dollars paid by each Maine business that engages in internet advertising.

Dutson, a member of the Media Bloggers Association, has picked up legal representation through that organization.

"This case is nothing more than an attempt by a deep-pocketed litigant to bully a blogger for criticizing state officials and state contractors"", said MBA President Robert Cox in a post. "We have successfully defended MBA members in nine previous cases and I don't expect the outcome here to be be any different."

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About the Author:
David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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