A new California court decision is good, but it’s totally inconsistent with established law.
Some background. In print, you can be held liable for re-printing others’ slanderous statements (at this point it becomes libel, or printed defamation). I always thought this was stupid. If I print “so-and-so 1 said so-and-so 2 engages in sick behavior X,” and so-and-so 1 really did say that, my factual assertion is correct. If so-and-so 1′s factual assertion is wrong, only so-and-so 1 should be held accountable.
Thanks to the new decision my opinion will rule California — on the Web only. Michelle Malkin (who’s been defamed herself and crusades for tighter Internet laws) correctly argues that doesn’t make any sense.
According to sfgate.com:
“Because the ruling prohibits lawsuits against someone who publishes another person’s statement on the Internet, he said, a newspaper couldn’t be sued for carrying a libelous quote in its online edition, but could be sued if the libelous statement was made by one of its reporters [as opposed to a source].
“Newspapers and publishers can be sued for publishing an author’s libelous statement, although the victim generally must prove at least that the publisher knew or should have known that the statement was false and defamatory.”
The main thing that annoys me is the court’s refusal to distinguish between (A) a poster sued for quoting libel and (B) a provider sued for hosting a comment board on which libel took place. It ruled that both are immune, even though (A) is a clear parallel to behavior print journalists can’t get away with. (B) is somewhat similar to a newspaper publisher’s role, but comment boards are much harder to monitor without a lot of staff, and its pretty clear the law in question was meant to protect providers.
From the ruling:
“This appears to be the first published case in which…immunity has been invoked by an individual who had no supervisory role in the operation of the Internet site where allegedly defamatory material appeared, and who thus was clearly not a provider of an ‘interactive computer service’ under the broad definition provided in the CDA…[W]e conclude that Congress employed the term ‘user’ to refer simply toÂ anyone using an interactive computer service, without distinguishing between active and passive use.”
Even the good California court decisions are bad.
Robert VerBruggen blogs at http://robertsrationale.blogspot.com.