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California Supreme Court OKs Web Libel Immunity 107

Posted by Zonk
from the something-to-talk-about dept.
tanman writes "The California Supreme Court has ruled that websites which publish libelous text written by third parties cannot be sued for libel, reports CNN. The ruling found for the defendant, who was backed by the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. The internet service companies following the case feared that a ruling against the defendant would find them liable for content posted to their respective websites. Even though the court allowed this could have far-reaching consequences, they ultimately wanted this to be a question more for Congress than the courts." From the article: "The case centers on an opinion piece sent via e-mail to Ilena Rosenthal, a woman's health advocate who runs various message boards and promotes alternative medicine. The scathing missive, written by Tim Bolen, accused Dr. Terry Polevoy, of Canada, of stalking a Canadian radio producer and included various invectives directed at Polevoy and Dr. Stephen Barrett, of Pennsylvania. The two doctors operated Web sites devoted to exposing health frauds. After Rosenthal posted the piece to two newsgroups, Polevoy and Barrett sued her, Bolen and others for libel. The lawsuit accuses Rosenthal of republishing the information after being warned it was false and defamatory."
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California Supreme Court OKs Web Libel Immunity

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  • games (Score:2, Funny)

    by otacon (445694)
    Let the flames begin...
  • About time. The net has changed the rules for publishing libel. Think we need a new set of rules. Not sure how it would pan out but some sort of quality mark for reliability and a sensible approach to libel across borders.
    • by kassemi (872456) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @10:52AM (#16930452) Homepage
      The rules shouldn't be changed, but rather people should understand that the definition of "publish" has in fact changed. Google, MS, Slashdot, etc. are not making an active, reviewed, and personal decision to make public whatever information they receive, but are acting as worlds in which such information is indexed and searched. We should make a distinction between active publication and passive publication. This would definitely solve a few problems.
      • by overshoot (39700) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:21AM (#16930942)
        The rules shouldn't be changed, but rather people should understand that the definition of "publish" has in fact changed. Google, MS, Slashdot, etc. are not making an active, reviewed, and personal decision to make public whatever information they receive, but are acting as worlds in which such information is indexed and searched. We should make a distinction between active publication and passive publication. This would definitely solve a few problems.

        Except in this case Rosenthal did exercise editorial control. She doesn't run a blog comments section; she broadcast Bolen's accusations to Usenet under her own account.

        • I agree. If she knew ahead of time the content of the material, and had an active roll in it being posted, then I don't know how she can be excluded from the lawsuit. Otherwise, anyone could post anything, using an anonymous writer as the source.
          • by gravesb (967413)
            They say hard cases make bad law, and maybe the court was trying to establish a precedent to limit similar law suits in the future. It is interesting, coming from California, which has very liberal long arm statutes and has in the past applied those to libel suits. However, even if this case was incorrectly decided, I think it is the right thing for the long term. I would rather the court err on the side of too much editorial excess than limit speech.
        • I think, though, that in cases such as this, the rules of a public forum should apply: just because people aren't physically present doesn't mean that the discussion isn't "oral" in nature. Orality is part of a given existential situation, with responses shaped by the statements of other participants. "Textuality" implies forethought, consideration, planning, and then writing in an abstract form: you're writing for an audience that you don't assume you'll ever meet. In this case, laws based on print shou
      • by 0x0000 (140863) <zerohex@zerohe x . com> on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @12:15PM (#16932030) Homepage
        The rules shouldn't be changed, but rather people should understand that the definition of "publish" has in fact changed. Google, MS, Slashdot, etc. are not making an active, reviewed, and personal decision to make public whatever information they receive, but are acting as worlds in which such information is indexed and searched. We should make a distinction between active publication and passive publication. This would definitely solve a few problems.

        I agree that rules shouldn't necessarily change - and I don't think they have, really. I think the distinction that needs to be made is not Passive vs Active publication (although those might be useful terms for the concept - rather, the concept of a printer - as opposed to a publisher or an editor needs to be brought forward into the the present day.

        To apply the paradigm of hardcopy book writing, printing, and publishing to online content is not that difficult (one hopes it might even be simple enough for lawyers, courts, and lawmakers to understand - although understanding may not be sufficient in and of itself to keep those types of folk from screwing it up):

        An individual who writes something is a writer.

        When that individual posts writing to an internet forum - say a blog or a forum (for now I'm just talking about writing that is not being done as "work-made-for-hire" or some other editorially-controlled, other-directed work) - they are publishing that work. This individual can be said to be a self-published writer.

        The individual, organization, or company providing the blog or forum technical facilities remain in a position analogous to that of a printer - in the "old-school" sense of the word, when "printer" was "someone who prints things [on a printing press]". Perhaps print shop would be more descriptive. In either case, whether you prefer printer or print shop (there is a subtle distinction in that the added shop may imply a company or organization, whereas printer might be taken to mean an individual, although in the old days "send it to the printers'" was a common phrase) - whichever you prefer, the printer has essentially no control over content, and is typically in no way responsible for the intellectual property content of the work.

        I believe this is similar to the line of thought that went into the "common carrier" concept in telecommunications, which - while not directly applicable to this kind of situation - is obviously similar in it's handling of IP and [potentially] legally actionable communications.

        Just as one does not prosecute (or sue) the phone company if a criminal uses a phone in the commission or a crime (or if a person slanders another over the phone), I don't know of many successful cases of a printer being sued or prosecuted over the contents of a book - perhaps if you went back to the early days of the printing press - I think some printers were prosecuted for printing e.g. Bibles, but they were arguably publishing (distributing) that work, as well as just printing it.

        I believe I am correct in saying that it is typically the publisher - and to some extent the writer - who gets the legal fallout when something is written and released to the public which has legal ramifications. I actually think that is appropriate, provided we can make distinction between publishing and [what on the Internet amounts to] printing.

        Also, there's the fact that if libel someone on the internet, I think I should get the full benefit of the publicity that goes along with the lawsuit (the phrase "there is no such thing as bad publicity" originated in the newspaper publishing industry, did it not?) - why should I share the spotlight with News Corp if I libel someone on MySpace.com, after all?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by crackspackle (759472)
        What about vigilante sites like http://platewire.com [platewire.com], as reported in this article [click2houston.com], or www.womansavers.com [womansavers.com]. These sights tend to encourage posts which on the face of it are libelous if unfounded, if not a whole lot more (IANAL).

        It seems to me that sights like these should not only be ethically bound but legally bound to provide an active means to challenge and remove posts which contain false or misleading statements since they more or less directly identify individuals involved. At the very least, they shou
    • I don't see that though. Why shouldn't you be liable for what you publish? Just because you CAN publish it, doesn't mean you should, especially when they're obviously incapable of moderating it.

      It's like saying you should have a right to leave loaded guns around, since you can't control EVERYONE it's clearly not your safety problem. Sites like Amazon, and usenet providers, are wonderful places to joe-job and spread disgusting shite without any recourse. I think it's about time they take some reponsibili
      • >Why shouldn't you be liable for what you publish?

        The opinion is explicit that libel victims have recourse against the person who libeled them.

        The exemption is for service providers and conduits, and a single illustration proves how necessary it is. Imagine a defamatory statement on Usenet. Thousands of sites will be passing that statement along, storing it, and showing it to users. If the hosts and forwarders were in the legal line of fire, they'd shut down and there wouldn't be a Usenet. Most of us wou
        • Yeah, except that "Anonymous Joe" on Amazon isn't exactly easy to track down unless Amazon tells me their IP and the ISP tells me their name.

          Now, I should mention that in my case Amazon *was* good enough to remove the libelous reviews in only a day or two. So I don't want to give the impression that they're irresponsible. I just don't think they should be totally immune because who knows if in the future they will react with the same speed and objectiveness.

          Tom
          • And what if Anonymous Joe used an anonymous wireless connection at a coffee shop, or the hallway of an apartment building?? It really isn't hard to put more layers of anonymity on if you try when going online... Making everyone up the chain liable is just a Bad Idea(TM) - all I would have to do to get revenge on anyone with an unsecured wireless connection would be to use their connection to write libelous statements, then sit back and watch them get nailed. This is why online publishing and real world publ
      • In an ideal world, you should be liable for what you publish. When that ideal world shows up, you will be. In the meantime, what we really need in a non-legal and quick way of dealing with libels.
        • I've always favoured the DIACF approach. Apparently Justice Canada disagrees with me :-)

          Sadly in my case the best solution is to ride it out. A few trolls in usenet decide they want to cause trouble and there isn't much I can do so long as NNTP servers accept anonymous posting (and usenet readers continue to be ignorant about how NNTP works...).

          Tom
        • by DarkVader (121278)
          I would say that in an ideal world, you should be able to speak or publish freely without fear of reprisal.

          That's extremely difficult today, and why anonymity is sometimes VERY necessary.

          But you do have a quick and easy way of dealing with something someone else says or publishes today. The legal system doesn't come into play at all.

          You can just ignore it.
    • How would you handle a situation where a private user makes a post [maps.org] to an online discussion group expressing opinion A. Some other individual picks up the post and, without notifying the author or obtaining their consent, uses it [heartdiseaseguru.com] to promote a product (Makuka Olive Oil supplements), sell advertising space on the web page, and express an opinion B (which is complete opposite that of the original author's opinion A) by (deliberately?) misinterpreting the subject line of the original e-mail.

      To add insult to inj
  • So basically, the California Supreme Court has just provided a fantastic shield to online news channels and even tabloids against libel suits. The work-around would look something like this:
    1. News site writes libelous story that's too slanderous to publish
    2. The company has one of their employee anonymously publish the story on a newsgroup, forum, or blog
    3. Since the story is now "out", they now republish the story citing the now anonymous (and mostly forgotten) source
    4. News company basks in their immunity

    I'm no fan of lawsuits, and this decision is certainly a win for bloggers and most honest web publishers, but it sounds like the consequences of this decision were not well thought out (particularly in respect to the larger news organizations or tabloids).
    • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @10:53AM (#16930462)
      Freedom can be used for both good and bad things.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hey! (33014)
        Freedom can be used for both good and bad things.

        Sure, but when you use your freedom to do bad things, you still have to face consequences.

        In the philosophy that underlies our system of government, freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. Especially in matters of speech, the government is not allowed to act in a paternalistically preemptive way, based on the speculation that harm might result. In fact it is sometimes prevented from doing things when demonstrable harm will result, because granting too m
        • by Threni (635302)
          > Especially in matters of speech, the government is not allowed to act in a paternalistically preemptive way, based on the
          > speculation that harm might result.

          Bombing civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan, however, IS allowed.
          • by hey! (33014)

            Bombing civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan, however, IS allowed.

            Actually, an important distinction that is often missed is between prevention and preemption.

            Often, these are used as if synonymous, as I have above. But prevention is much broader than preemption, which refers to stopping a process that is already in motion. In general, when the government can take "preventive" steps against its citizens, these steps would be more precisely described as "preemptive". It's the difference between shutting down m

            • by Threni (635302)
              > the whole mess was justified using emotionally charged images that suggested we were "preempting",
              > when in fact at most what we were doing could be said to be "preventing".

              No, you were "causing" conflict, but it was justified as a pre-emptive strike.

              > The justifications were clearly being misrepresented, in my opinion.

              Well, they just didn't make sense. It was WMD first, then, once it became clear that none would be found, it was regime change. Neither charge made sense - the WMD they once had w
    • Newspapers frequently publish libelous stories that aren't true, then later publish a correction and an apology buried somewhere in the next issue of the paper. Especially when it comes to celebrities or other famous people. How should it be the responsibility of the hosting site to censor their users, as newspaper writers don't even bother researching their facts?

      Information on the internet from ordinary users, has to be treated like information you get from a drunkard at a bar. You have no idea if it's
    • newspapers have ways round libel laws for anything they want to print anyway. this hasn't opened any floodgates.
    • With freedom comes personal responsibility.

      Of course, all it would take for the web publisher to be sued for libel is for this article to be tracked back to the publisher through the process of discovery.

      If you've ever been through a discovery process, you'll know that people get deposed, evidence is gathered, and almost anything is fair game to ask for, within reason. E-mails, memos, files. Maybe the shredder does wonderful things, but e-mails are forever these days.
    • This is not new.
      They are called "tabloids".
    • A judge could and might look underneath the appearances and conclude that it was libel after all despite the attempt to launder it.
    • by almost entirely lega (1029988) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:40AM (#16931292) Homepage
      The problem you cite in your hypothetical is potentially real, but your premise is wrong. The California Supreme Court didn't provide the shield, Congress did, and the Court's decision makes that plain - something judges occasionally do when they make a decision that they recognize can yield the wrong result, but feel bound nonetheless to issue the decision because, hey, they don't make the laws, they just interpret them. It should be no surprise that the troublesome section of law is part of the Communications Decency Act - the CDA has been problematic since it was hurriedly written...and parts of it have already been ruled to be unconstitutional.
    • I for one welcome our libelling slanderous overlords.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CodeBuster (516420)
      I'm no fan of lawsuits, and this decision is certainly a win for bloggers and most honest web publishers, but it sounds like the consequences of this decision were not well thought out

      The proper role of the court is to interpret the existing laws and apply them to their decisions in specific instances. If the current laws are not covering a particular point or require amendment then that is a job for Congress or your state legislature and NOT the courts. The justices acted appropriately in this case.
    • by maop (309499)
      5. Nobody gives a fuck because people are skeptical about anonymous postings to the internet.
  • New precedents (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gwayne (306174)
    This may also set new precedents for libel in print. Newspapers and publishers can now simply claim a piece was submitted by a third-party...
    • by Salvance (1014001) *
      Well, they'd probably have to show some proof ... but an editor or writer could easily create that proof and make sure that his/her tracks cannot be followed. For example, let's say a single writer decided to ridiculously slander a celebrity. As long as the writer published the story on a message board first, they could republish the story in their online newspaper (or if the law was extended as you suggest, in their print). Since the only person who knows the scheme is the writer, it would be difficult
      • by abscr (645403)
        They have to show proof? Aren't reporters protected from naming anonymous sources? A reporter could just claim that the source does not want to be named.
    • This may also set new precedents for libel in print. Newspapers and publishers can now simply claim a piece was submitted by a third-party...

      Except publishers of newspapers will have a lot of trouble arguing that they aren't the publishers of the information, whereas online services and their users are, explicitly, under federal statute, legally defined as not being "publishers" or "speakers" of information they make available online if that information originated with someone else.

      This case applied a very

    • This may also set new precedents for libel in print. Newspapers and publishers can now simply claim a piece was submitted by a third-party...

      I doubt it, the role of freelance reporters and news services (e.g. Reuters) is well established.
  • by SuperMario666 (588666) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @10:51AM (#16930428)
    Publishers like newspapers, magazines and tv broadcasters are held liable for everything that their employees produce, post, and broadcast, so why shouldn't those who publish materials on the web be held to a similar standard? I'm guessing a lot of you all on /. have never been on the receiving end of serious, reputation-destroying, libel.
    • by Salvance (1014001) *
      There definitely needs to be some sort of line drawn, the difficulty is finding where to put it. If a blogger republishes a story about K-Fed and Britney, I could see offering some sort of protection/immunity against the blogger getting sued by K-Fed or Britney. But stating that anyone who republishes a story, particularly if it's from an anonymous source, cannot be sued goes too far in my opinion.
    • I think your misunderstanding the ruling. Here's the clearest thing I saw from the article:
      Unless Congress revises the existing law, people who claim they were defamed in an Internet posting can only seek damages from the original source of the statement, the court ruled..

      So, if I were to write something libel about you in the comments section of a /. article, you can sue /. You can however, come after me. If a third party news site picks up and reports based on what I posted, you can go after them e

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        So, if I were to write something libel about you in the comments section of a /. article, you can sue /. You can however, come after me. If a third party news site picks up and reports based on what I posted, you can go after them either. You can only come after the original source, in this case, me.

        I think your post is missing a few 't.

    • Publishers like newspapers, magazines and tv broadcasters are held liable for everything that their employees produce, post, and broadcast...

      Excellent point. However, are they also as responsible for the Letters to the Editor section? I find this a closer analogy. The writer of the article was, to my knowledge, not an employee of the publisher in this case.

      • by Control Group (105494) * on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:20AM (#16930926) Homepage
        I believe they are, though I'm not a lawyer - but the difference is that letters to the editor are, of necessity, read and vetted by the editorial staff. This means the decision to publish them is an implicit stamp of approval. Posts on the internet are not necessarily even seen by the people nominally "publishing" them.

        Really, the issue is what "publishing" means. Traditionally, publishing requires the publisher to select and edit stories which would then be pushed out to readers. The internet is different; a site like /., for example, is not analogous to a traditional publisher. Holding slashdot liable for things said in comments would be more analogous to holding the paperboy liable for things said in the paper.

        My argument would be that the new publishers are the people hitting "submit" on the web form, since they're the ones selecting stories, validating them for truth (I crack me up), editing them for typos, and making the decision to make them public (i.e., "publish" them). Which is what this court decision seems to be in agreement with.
        • by bidule (173941)

          My argument would be that the new publishers are the people hitting "submit" on the web form, since they're the ones selecting stories, validating them for truth (I crack me up), editing them for typos, and making the decision to make them public (i.e., "publish" them). Which is what this court decision seems to be in agreement with.

          I would say "validate for interest", not for truth. Letters to the editors are a tool for the community to voice their concerns about current events. In a sense they complement

    • by tubs (143128)
      Could the argument be you wouldn't sue the Infrastucture would you? Foe example if a TV program is broadcast you wouldn't sue the supplier of the satellite, or the company that provides the cable - you'd sue the publisher.
    • The difference is whether there is a prior approval before publishing.

      If sites like /. were liable for what the users posted, they would have to employ editors for screening all submissions before they appeared. They would need some legal training, and thus not be entirely cheap.

      Most advertisement funded or hobbyist sites would not be able to afford this. Which mean that the net would fall back into the hands of a few large media corporations, and most of the democratic potential of the Internet would get
    • There's a somewhat strange disconnect between the immunity granted by Congress in this type of case and the copyright/trademark cases in which ISPs and message board providers (to say nothing of file sharers like Napster) are found liable for contributory infringement if they refuse to take down material about which claims of a violation are made. One might argue that granting the message board defamation immunity is a way to encourage (or at least not discourage) speech, by contrast with a more black
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DragonWriter (970822)

        One might argue that granting the message board defamation immunity is a way to encourage (or at least not discourage) speech

        One might, but as is apparent from the labels of both the broad title of law (the "Communications Decency Act") and the specific applicable subsection ("Protection for "Good Samaritan" blocking and screening of offensive material"), encouraging free speech is the precise opposite of Congress' intent with this liability shield, it was indeed intended to discourage content that Congress

    • Publishers like newspapers, magazines and tv broadcasters are held liable for everything that their employees produce, post, and broadcast, so why shouldn't those who publish materials on the web be held to a similar standard?

      "Shouldn't", I dunno, but they don't get the same treatment because they were clever enough to go to Congress and convince them that immunizing them against libel liability would somehow be useful to protecting kids against pornography. The broad liability shield in the CDA was specif

  • So if I have a blog but I quote someone anonymous and that quote is defamatory and libelous, how is the victim supposed to get justice? Is the publisher held accountable if the third party is unnamed? Or is that an easy way to just post anything someone wants? "disturbing implications" indeed.
    • by LordEd (840443)
      IANAL or American, but could you not sue the person as a john doe and compel the publisher for the name of the source (like the RIAA's john doe lawsuits)?
      • by k12linux (627320)
        Assuming there was any record of the source. I'm sure a good many blogs out there don't even record the IP address of the poster.
  • by netbuzz (955038) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:00AM (#16930582) Homepage
    While the journalist in me applauds the decision, I have to wonder how far the underlying principle is going to be taken. If victims of libel can only pursue action against the original poster, what about cases where the original poster is anonymous? If no one but the original poster holds responsibility for the content -- even when it's known to be false and defamatory -- the opportunities for intentional, unfettered smear campaigns would seem to be enormous. ... I mean even more enormous than under our previous understanding of libel protections. I'm willing to pay an awful lot for free speech. Just hope I'm not on the receiving end of one of these smears.
    • I can't say I'd mind it so much. Frankly, if some sort of massive "Rob T Firefly eats babies" campaign was launched, and it was all traceable back to nothing more than an "Anonymous Coward" post somewhere, I'd hope that fact alone would take most of the wind out of its sails for anyone whose opinion of me really matters for whatever reason.

      And hey, it's free publicity. Perhaps someone Googling for baby-eating sites will come upon me instead, and suddenly realize they need to hire someone with my skills f
    • You could do this before the internet. It simply had to be done with print rather than with a blog entry. Unidentified sources have been around since there were clay tablets and journalists have been protecting them for just as long. Of course when its the Pentagon Papers that's different...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kabocox (199019)
      While the journalist in me applauds the decision, I have to wonder how far the underlying principle is going to be taken. If victims of libel can only pursue action against the original poster, what about cases where the original poster is anonymous? If no one but the original poster holds responsibility for the content -- even when it's known to be false and defamatory -- the opportunities for intentional, unfettered smear campaigns would seem to be enormous. ... I mean even more enormous than under our pr
    • by vertinox (846076)
      ? If no one but the original poster holds responsibility for the content -- even when it's known to be false and defamatory -- the opportunities for intentional, unfettered smear campaigns would seem to be enormous.

      I suppose the best solution is to play the game in reverse.

      Either make it so that regardless of claims that no matter how bad the libel, that your image won't change. Or perhaps use your own methods to call the source into question.

      The problem of society that sees false information as negative to
  • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:00AM (#16930586)

    Disclaimer: I can't RTFA for some reason, so I'm only going on the summary here.

    Rashly assuming that said summary is accurate, this seems like a dangerous ruling. It basically says that deliberately and directly propagating harmful untruths about someone on-line is OK. Surely the whole point of defamation laws is surely that spreading those harmful untruths around is, well, harmful, and therefore should not be permitted (and compensation due if that law is broken)?

    Now, you can make strong arguments both ways about the responsibilities and freedoms of on-line service providers in relation to content supplied by others but hosted on or transmitted by the service provider's systems.

    On the one hand, there is the "common carrier" argument: service providers don't know about or control the content and therefore shouldn't be held responsible for it. By extension, you have to consider that even if they do receive a complaint from someone, that person may or may not be justified in making that complaint, and it may or may not be appropriate for the service provider to censor content on request.

    On the other hand, this is a huge legal loophole, which basically says that on-line free speech is completely unaccountable, even in cases like defamation where the same speech is clearly held by law to be an abuse in other contexts. In the current legal and technological climate, where a lengthy court process is required to get anything done about anything yet the information can spread very fast, there's simply no effective way for someone who is damaged by this sort of action to defend themselves.

    The only way forward, as far as I can see, is to introduce fast-track legal processes that can resolve fairly straightforward cases quickly and relatively informally, following a similar principle to small claims courts. Such a legal framework could deal with all kinds of on-line abuses -- not least defamation and copyright infringement -- in a timely fashion, without resorting to appointing service providers to the role of courts.

    To me, this makes far more sense than either attempting technological controls (as copyright holders are doing with DRM, for example) or just giving up (as frequently seems the case with defamation, and people offering bad advice on regulated subjects like health, law and finances). Of course, a healthy dose of population education, so that people don't just believe anything they see (particularly from an anonymous source on a random web site or chat room) wouldn't do any harm, either.

    • by LordEd (840443)
      The way I read the article, it means that the company (amazon, google, etc) is immune from libel just because they are the publisher. However, I didn't read anything that indicated the person who actually wrote the article is immune.

      So if I say that you go around burning buildings and drowning kittens, Slashdot would be safe, but I could still be a participant in the great American sport of lawsuits.
      • Sure, but combined with anonymity, that immediately implies that anyone can write anything about anyone without liability, as long as the original author remains anonymous. Other posts in this discussion have given examples about how this could be abused by news organisations trying to push an agenda; the leaking rumours about new Apple hardware that were mentioned on Slashdot a few months back come to mind as another possible case.

        Moreover, with the rise of on-line distribution of information, we have a

    • by MollyB (162595)
      I had no problem with the link. From TFA: "The prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications," Associate Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote in the majority opinion. "Nevertheless ... statutory immunity serves to protect online freedom of expression and to encourage self-regulation, as Congress intended."

      Of course, folks could complain that this is Outrageous Judicial Restraint. =)
  • .. to do what various tabloid UK rags do and have a 'Wicked Whispers' section where they mention something dodgy happening between a celebrity and someone else, without saying who the celebrity is. Rather thay say 'well known daytime TV presenter' or something. Usually you've got a pretty good idea of who they're referring to, but they never name names. Of course, the other advantages is they can just completely make stuff up.
  • Two wins in a a week for free speech, unbelievable. I have to commend the California Supreme Court and the US District Court in Chicago(Craigslist ruling) for getting it right in these two cases.
  • Okay, so now I can take something I find on the web, written by someone else, and even if I know it is untrue, or suspected untruth, or even just uncertain of it's truth, I can spread it around and be safe from any liability.

    I can search long and hard for info about someone I don't like, public figure or not? And spread the news started by someone else.

    Yeah, free speech, that's great, but who or what's going to protect someone like me or normal every day people from such stuff. It's all great until someone
    • No?

      I'm pretty sure you can still be sued for that.

      All this does is mean that the sites that you post to cannot be sued for displaying what you posted.

      i.e. you slander someone on slashdot. That person can sue you, but not slashdot.

      Then again, i didn't read the article so who knows
      • by Kris_B_04 (883011)
        Hmmm... maybe I misunderstood...

        "Unless Congress revises the existing law, people who claim they were defamed in an Internet posting can only seek damages from the original source of the statement, the court ruled."

        But it seems that only the original poster can be sued....

        • Exactly. The person who happens to be providing the web hosting cannot be.

          If you stand up on a soap box and start spouting libel, the soap box manufacturer can't be sued for it's 'part' in that libel, right? Well, if you buy web hosting and put libel on your site, the host now can't be sued for it's 'part' in the libel. Should the hoster, however, endorse the libel, reprint it elsewhere, and so on, they've then involved themselves.

    • by moeinvt (851793)
      I don't follow your interpretation. Sorry to single you out, because I've read this opinion a few times, and I think it's a ridiculous conclusion.

      "Okay, so now I can take something I find on the web, written by someone else, and even if I know it is untrue, or suspected untruth, or even just uncertain of it's truth, I can spread it around and be safe from any liability."

      NO! I don't read that into this ruling at all. The ruling is stating that if you operate a WEB SITE, you don't have to be responsible fo
  • Barrett v. Rosenthal (Score:3, Informative)

    by Absolut187 (816431) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @11:22AM (#16930962) Homepage
    Even though the court allowed this could have far-reaching consequences, they ultimately wanted this to be a question more for Congress than the courts.
    Congress already answered this question in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (47 USC s 230):

    (c) Protection for "Good Samaritan" blocking and screening of offensive material
        (1) Treatment of publisher or speaker
    No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

    (f) Definitions
        (3) Information content provider
    The term "information content provider" means any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other interactive computer service.

    http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode47/u sc_sec_47_00000230----000-.html [cornell.edu]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_Decenc y_Act [wikipedia.org]

    The EFF has a good site about this case with links to related material.
    http://www.eff.org/legal/cases/Barrett_v_Rosenthal / [eff.org]
  • Some years ago a malicious person posted a hate letter in Art Bell's name directed at the Filipino people. Art Bell is the host of a very popular late night radio talk show. CoastToCoastAM [coasttocoastam.com] The latest article. [nowpublic.com]

    Needless to say the FBI got involved and traced the letter to an anonymous terminal at a US university. Art who now lives in Manilla, Phillipines with his Filipino wife is in a dangerous position because the newspapers keep printing it even after it's been proven to be a hoax. All he can do is decry
  • that we can all attack Steve Ballmer at will, without fear of retaliation!

    Not that that ever stopped anyone here at Slashdot anyway.

    Actually, in all seriousness, it seemed to me that this ruling was saying that if I post something libelous (sp? maybe not a word?) here on Slashdot, Slashdot can't be sued for it. But if Slashdot is ordered to turn over my registration information, or perhaps figure out the IP from which I'm posting... if they could get a reasonable finger on me, they could still sue me. I d
  • If we were talking about a fully automated BBS/newsgroup/Slash/blog/etc where there is no direct involvement between the site host and any particular message, IMO it would be completely clear that the host should not be liable. The only possible exception might be if the host received an explicit sworn statement that the message is libelous or otherwise illegal, but refuses to remove it. And that would only be maybe.

    However, in this case we have a manually moderated forum, where the host made a conscious

  • This was inevitable if the US wanted to keep its place as one of the leaders of the internet. The web wants to be free, and if the US had decided to make sites accountable for libel, the sites would all just move out of the US.
    It's becoming harder and harder to find countries with governments sympathetic to freedom of information. If the pirate party ever got off the ground, I could see a massive opportunity for people to create sites that share information in the way that YouTube did before it got bought
  • Does this mean that bittorrent sites are no longer liable for what people post on them?
  • Damn Jews! It's all their fault.
  • If I am understanding this correctly then it is quite different from the normal case of the carrier (unmoderated host,search engine,forum,blog...) being immune from being sued but it is now also making the the poster of content (aka the person who actually put it on the site) immune as well, now only leaving the person who first created the content liable (and they can hide behind anonminity)

    If this is case it is a very very bad ruling which turns the web from a place where "freedom of speech is allowed" to
    • If I am understanding this correctly then it is quite different from the normal case of the carrier (unmoderated host,search engine,forum,blog...) being immune from being sued but it is now also making the the poster of content (aka the person who actually put it on the site) immune as well, now only leaving the person who first created the content liable (and they can hide behind anonminity)

      This is correct.

      If this is case it is a very very bad ruling which turns the web from a place where "freedom of speec

  • ... OSTG servers are relocated to California overnight :) I for one welcome our libelous overlords.
  • I was hassled in my old job, which just about cracked me up. When I put up an article on my website detailing how I was bullied, I was threatened with legal action, libel - you name it. It seems that the company involved, whom I regard as having an obsession with power and money, wanted to stifle any criticisms, even going so far as to have articles (yes, even on Slashdot) and newsgroup submissions deleted. And yet, they don't care about the harm done to me. http://www.btinternet.com/~dr_paul_lee/auto.shtml [btinternet.com]

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