Blogger who criticized Maine tourism office faces lawsuit

By Robert Weisman, Boston Globe Staff  |  April 28, 2006

A coastal Maine blogger who criticized the state's tourism office has been hit with a lawsuit seeking potentially more than $1 million in damages for allegedly making false statements and posting on his website, Maine Web Report, images from proposed tourism advertisements a New York agency prepared for Maine officials.

The case raises the issue of how free speech protection will be applied in the proliferating world of weblogs, or blogs, and underscores the growing influence of bloggers on business and government.

''It's a reflection of the extent to which businesses are taking critiques from the blogosphere very seriously," said John G. Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. ''Bloggers have gained enormous power."

Warren Kremer Paino Advertising LLC, an agency hired by the Maine Department of Tourism, filed suit in US District Court in Maine last week, alleging the blogger, Lance Dutson of Searsmont, Maine, outside Camden, violated the agency's copyright and defamed the agency in blog entries self-published at

Dutson, an independent Web designer, launched his blog last fall to comment on technology and Maine tourism issues. He has written commentaries ridiculing the state's tourism efforts and, last month, he posted a ''rough draft" advertisement pulled from Maine's Department of Economic and Community Development website showing a collage of iconic images of the Maine seacoast, woodlands, and ski slopes, with a dummy phone number that turned out to connect to a line promoting a phone sex service. The agency had inadvertently placed the phone number on the draft advertisement for a presentation made to state tourism officials.

''This is supposed to be our biggest industry," Dutson wrote on his blog yesterday, referring to tourism, ''but it's being run like a trailer park daycare on its 3rd notice from the Human Services people."

In an interview yesterday, Dutson said he was served with the lawsuit Saturday by a sheriff. ''This cop car pulled up to my house," he recalled. ''It was pretty good for neighborhood gossip."

Read more here.