What Constitutes Libel in a Blog Post? Re:Prior Post About SYTYCD Judge Mary Murphy

May 30, 2009

betsy main blog photo

This week I posted an article about So You Think You Can Dance Judge Mary Murphy.  She is in Boston with SYTYCD as they begin auditions for the Fox TV hit’s sixth season. 

Ms. Murphy made an appearance with friends at a restaurant in Boston, and I took a few photos, spoke with her for a minute or two and then wrote a very polite article about it.  Unfortunately, someone, who claims to be an attorney, has taken offense to my article, specifically stating that my photos and comments in the article were “unauthorized and therefore libelous”.

I do not typically post or address negative comments about my articles, but I felt that being accused of something false warranted a comment or two from me.

So to the “Anonymous” person who has been so thoughtfully warning me that the comments and photos in my article about So You Think You Can Dance Judge Mary Murphy are “unauthorized and therefore libelous”, you should understand the definition of “Libel”.


From Dictionary.com:

Libelous: Containing or involving a libel; defamatory; containing that which exposes some person to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule; as, a libelous pamphlet.


  1. noun 1.Law.
    a. defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.
    b.the act or crime of publishing it.
    c. a formal written declaration or statement, as one containing the allegations of a plaintiff or the grounds of a charge.
  2. anything that is defamatory or that maliciously or damagingly misrepresents.

Nothing in my post about SYTYCD Judge Mary Murphy is defamatory or malicious. The use of photos does not have to be authorized by Ms. Murphy. 

Based on the nature of the comments, I have to think that the anonymous comment author personally knows Ms. Murphy and that is why anonymous felt such a strong need to notify and warn me multiple times.  If anonymous truly is an attorney, as anonymous claimed, anonymous knows that “unauthorized use” does not constitute “libel.”  Anonymous also likely knows that public interest stories, which includes stories about celebrities, do not have to be “authorized’”, nor do their photos. 

For clarification, I contacted Ms. Murphy’s manager and was informed that my article, including photos, was just fine.

Bloggers, journalists, writers and photographers have great protection under the Freedom of Speech.  I am not an attorney and I do not know the intricacies of the law as it relates to bloggers; there is quite a bit of debate regarding protections and laws around bloggers/journalists.  More Information

As a blogger, I have always maintained that if someone I write about is unhappy with what I have written or posted, they need only contact me to discuss their objection.  I can be contacted through the “Contact Betsy” link at the bottom of this site.

Anonymous commenters should also be aware that ‘anonymous’ does not really mean that your identity is completely anonymous.  Information is registered and, if necessary, IP addresses can be tracked.  So if someone does need to contact me with something as important as a legal accusation, I would suggest contacting me via email with the concerns.

2 Responses to What Constitutes Libel in a Blog Post? Re:Prior Post About SYTYCD Judge Mary Murphy
  1. Anonymous said… Well Said Betsy. :) Ricardo. Not the one from the hotel conversation.
    May 30, 2009 11:07 PM

    MrBobDawgsta said… good stuff…
    June 2, 2009 1:34 AM

    Anonymous said… Enjoy reading your blogg. Don’t let anybody stop you.
    June 3,2009 1:02 AM

    Betsy Hijazi said… As a follow up, I decided to post a few of “Anonymous” comments as well as some useful information a ‘real’ attorney sent me about Libel:

    1st Comment by “Anonymous”: Unauthorized quoting of persons in this blog and use of photos of persons in this blog are liableous. Betsy, you need to be very careful. Signed, a patron (attorney) from Thursday night.” (Note the misspelling of the LEGAL word and how they personally ‘spoke’ to me, as though they know me!)

    7th (YES, 7TH!) Comment by “Anonymous”: Photos and comments used in this blog are unauthorized and therefore; libelous. The author must beware. (Note – comments do NOT have to be authorized, nor do photos. Glad they finally spelled it right!)

    Information regarding Libel from an attorney:
    At the very least, a libelous statement has to be negative–something that exposes you to contempt, hatred, ridicule etc.

    2nd, it can’t be true. Truth is an absolute defense.

    You didn’t say anything negative anyway, but if you had and it was true, it’s not libel, period… in personality torts like defamation/libel/slander, ‘anonymous’ has to prove you said something untrue AND did so w/ malice or intent to injure, since Mary’s a public figure.

    Thanks so much to the REAL attorney who gave me, and my fellow bloggers, very valuable information. Those who I know to be good bloggers/writers are respectful and considerate about whom they write and now we know a bit more today than we did yesterday about what the law says about what and how we write!

    June 3, 2009 7:54 PM

    E F Orwell said… The UK Libel Laws have taken another step into the abyss and could signal the end of Free Speech. A UK based media club, The Groucho Club which is owned by a billion pound corporation ‘Graphite Capital’ have launched a one of kind High Court action for a pre publishing test case for libel against Tyrone D Murphy, the author of an exposé book about the club. The book has not been completed yet and the case seems to be based on what could be written and not what has been written.

    The writer is defending this action in person as the costs are astronomical and I am supporting this writer and his cause. All writers and journalists should also support him as he is in the forefront of the battle for free speech.

    What do you make of this type of case where a legal action can be taken against a writer of a book that has not been written yet? This action is certainly a threat against all writers and journalists

    http://www.g-book.co.uk is the book web site

    August 13, 2009 9:43 AM

  2. Excellent site, keep up the good work

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