In a post on his personal blog, Weblogs, Inc. founder and CEO Jason Calacanis points the finger at Creative-Weblogging, accusing it of “stealing our HTML code and design”, being “slime buckets”, and advising their investors that they’re “investing in a bunch of worthless lies and cheats. Whatever money you gave them is probably embezzled right now.”
On one level, Jason has a point. The design of the Creative-Weblogging site has obviously lifted elements of its look from the Weblogs, Inc corporate page. But that’s not exactly unusual in web design, where good ideas spread fast.
But, unless there’s something more that Jason isn’t posting, he’s stepped well over the line with his invective. I can understand him being pissed off, but venting it in public isn’t the way to go – and, as someone points out, what he’s saying is close to defamatory. Certainly, in the UK, he could and would be sued for libel on that basis of those comments, and his only defence would be that they were true – the onus of which would be on him to prove.
And in fact, Jason clearly knows about the law, as he goes on to post this:
If people think I’m going to get soft just because we were acquired they are sadly, and profoundly, mistaken. I’d tell you idiots you would be hearing from my lawyers, but at this point you should expect a call from AOL’s lawyers.
For an executive of a major, publicly quoted media company (which as part of AOL is what Jason now is) to post potentially defamatory statements about a smaller rival online is bad. To then go on and threaten them on the basis that you now have a the legal team of a major corporation behind you is, if anything, even worse. Imagine for one second that an executive at Microsoft were to do the same. The furore would be immense, even if the executive were in the right. It makes you look like a bully.
I hope Jason sorts this out quickly, because it’s potentially damaging both for him personally and for AOL, and as someone who admires what he’s done with Weblogs, Inc I’d hate to see this overshadow the good work he’s put in. There will be plenty in the blogging community who support Jason, and assume he’s in the right simply because “he’s one of us” – a blogger, who understands the medium.
As a well-known, respected and influential blogger Jason can use the echo chamber effect to severely damage a company (whether they deserve it or not). Yet Jason is also, now, an executive of AOL, and in using his blogging influence to attack another company he’s dragging AOL into the issue – doubly so when threatening to set the lawyers on his rival. Should executives be using blogging in this way? I don’t think so. If Jason has a case, he should have gone to the lawyers first – not blogged about it.