Monday, November 20, 2006

Calif. Court Issues Broad Libel Protection

The California Supreme Court today issue a decision affirming sweeping protection against online defamation under the Communications Decency Act of 1996. In today's decision, Barrett v. Rosenthal, the court said that the common law distinction between "publishers" and "distributors" makes no difference under the CDA -- both have broad immunity against liability for defamatory materials published online. The court further held that the CDA protects providers and users of online computer services equally, without regard to whether the user is "active" or "passive."
"We acknowledge that recognizing broad immunity for defamatory republications on the Internet has some troubling consequences. Until Congress chooses to revise the settled law in this area, however, plaintiffs who contend they were defamed in an Internet posting may only seek recovery from the original source of the statement."
The ruling overturns a decision of the California Court of Appeal, which held that the CDA did not protect a "distributor" who republished an allegedly defamatory statement with notice of its defamatory character.

The case pitted the operator of a Web site devoted to exposing health frauds, Dr. Stephen J. Barrett, against the operator of an Internet discussion group, Ilena Rosenthal. Rosenthal received a copy of an article that made various allegations concerning Barrett's character and competence. When she posted the article to two news groups, Barrett sued. The trial court ruled that her republication of the article was protected under the CDA, but the Court of Appeal reversed -- a move the Supreme Court characterized as "swimming against the jurisprudential tide."

The case had drawn friend-of-the-court briefs from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and a who's who of technology and media companies.


Anonymous said...

I agree with the decision of the California Supreme Court. The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, states in section 230, "that internet publishers are protected from being held liable for allegedly harmful comments written by others." As the article states Rosenthal received a copy of a article in which it was critical of Barrett. She just published the material for her audience to read and digest the material. She did not devlop it and therefore is protected under the Telecommunications act of 1996.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the decision made by the California Supreme Court. Rosenthal received a copy of an article already published that was critical of Barrett. All Rosenthal did, though, was publish the material online and make it available to her readers. She didn't write or create the original. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 protects Internet publishes from being held liable for comments written by others, Rosenthal is protected.

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