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CA Court: Message Boards Are Opinions, Not Facts 297

Masem writes: "According to this Newsbytes story, a CA appeals court has issued a ruling that says that typical messages posted to internet message boards can not be considered as libel or slander, as they inheritently are framed as opinions and not as statements of fact. The case stems from rather negative comments posted by defendants about a computer reseller company on the internet; the company sued for libelous comments; lower courts did initially rule for the company, but the appeals court has overturned this. While not every message posted in a public forum is safe, the court's decision seems to convey that unless the message is framed as a form of fact, then any message posted to a public internet forum should be considered as opinion, and thus cannot be considered as a libelous comment."
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CA Court: Message Boards Are Opinions, Not Facts

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  • by peacefinder ( 469349 ) <alan.dewitt@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:07PM (#2626782) Journal
    Well, that should relieve everyone on Slashdot no end! :)
  • hehe... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TechnoVooDooDaddy ( 470187 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:07PM (#2626783) Homepage
    why am i suprised every time a court makes a ruling that makes sense?

    seriously, good work there in CA...
    • by cryptochrome ( 303529 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:28PM (#2626949) Journal
      There's a big difference between a negative opinion and libel - an opinion is a personal statement meant to negatively impact the object, while libel is a FALSE written statement meant to negatively impact the object.

      So while it's true that most of what you find on message boards is bullshit, and should thus be regarded as such without further verification, it can still be libel. All that matters is that it's a lie presented as fact to hurt the object.

      However, what the defendants were accused of is TRADE libel - apparently they were saying things like "this stock sucks" clearly within the context of opinion. It could be considered libel within some contexts - but not within that of a message forum. Anyone getting stock tips off one of those is pretty dumb. So in their limited case, it seems they were not commiting libel.

      cryptochrome
      • There was a case back a year or so ago (I don't have the linke, but it was popular enough to be on some TV news magazines) about a teenager that had to pay 6-figure fines to the SEC for pumping up stocks on message boards then dumping them when the price went up. I wonder if this case will allow him to get is money back?
      • The most interesting implications for this will be in the area of "libel per se."

        Despite popular belief, truth is not a complete defense against libel. If the comment is sexual in nature (e.g. "This prostitute is not a virgin," "This hairy-palmed fifteen year old masturbates feverishly") then it can be brought to court as libel without the plaintiff having to prove or disprove anything.

        The reason that I am more familiar than I would like to be with this is because I wrote a satirical "news" story on my LiveJournal once about a fictional kid who masturbated too much, and I assigned the kid a pseudonym that happened to be the real AIM screen name of a person I knew in real life. Stupid, I know. Even though only seven words were devoted to linking the pseudonym to the fictional character, the kid eventually found it and his mother threatened to sue. The story has since been erased.

        If a similar thing happened on a message board after this ruling, I wonder if the poster could still be brought up on libel charges?

        - Adam
        • Fiction =/= Truth (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Liza ( 97242 )
          Let me see if I got this -- Adam was *threatened* with a lawsuit, therefore truth is not a complete defense against libel?

          Um. First, it's pretty easy to sue someone. Anyone watch West Wing last night? It was an old rerun where they talk about lots of lawsuits against the President, from crackpots who want the government to stop letting aliens broadcast through their fillings, to someone blaming the President for the fact their spouse didn't wear a seatbelt and died in a car accident. Lunatic lawsuits are not uncommon. They might lose, or you might give in because hiring a lawyer to defend you is expensive. But in this case, Adam wasn't actually sued.

          Second, Adam wrote about a "fictional kid" who masturbates to much and had the personally identifiable information as a real person, who presumably doesn't do what he described the "fictional kid" doing. In other words, truth wouldn't be a defense, because Adam wasn't telling the truth.

          Now let's pretend for a moment that the "fictional kid" with a real kid's AIM name really is a compulsive masturbator. Then his story wouldn't be libel, but he still might get sued.

          Invasion of privacy, and in particular "public disclosure of private facts" is against the law in most states in the US. The law varies from state to state, but the tort "invasion of privacy" in most places is something like:

          One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of privacy,
          if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.

          Restatement (Second) of Torts, 652B (emphasis added)

          I think in most cases, the publication of a claim that a person is a compulsive masturbator would meet the "highly offensive to a reasonable person" standard.

          Truth is a complete defense against libel. But that has nothing to do, as far as I can tell, with Adam's situation. I could be wrong - state law on this varies. But that's how I see it.

          Liza
    • Re:hehe... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ChazeFroy ( 51595 )
      Actually an interesting aspect of this ruling is what if somebody posts confidential intellectual property or illegal material to a message board...DeCSS for example?
    • Without a ruling like this, you can get all kinds of things happening, like people people putting together wacky license agreements just to protect free speech and stuff like that.

      There is this whole thing of while the government cannot suppress certain rights (your milage may vary) that companies routinely do this via their employment agreements.

      glad to see some progress in the right direction.

  • Yipee! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Phoenix ( 2762 )
    Now we can really bash who the heck we want with no fear of reprisals...as long as we don't say anything to make anyone think that we're stating a fact.

    Bill Gates Beware [insert evil grin here]
  • Good News (Score:1, Redundant)

    by jeriqo ( 530691 )
    At least, that's a good news for Slashdot :)

    Remember the Fine Print ?

    "The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way."

    -J
    • by EccentricAnomaly ( 451326 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:27PM (#2626942) Homepage
      Deep, Deep, down in the sprawling dungeons below Redmond, Washington:

      "Yes, Yes, my precious"

      "Uhhh... Mr. Gates?"

      "WHAT are you doing here!"

      "Uhhh... sir, I was sent my the legal team... ya know, Nazgul, Balrog, & son... it seems a court ruling in California put a crimp in our plan to rid oursleves of that vile website, slash-"

      "DON'T say that word!! ...well, I guess we need to go to plan B... Send forth the flying monkeys!! Muhahaha!!"

      "Uh, sir.. we don't have any flying monkeys... all we have is Dancing Monkey boy..."

      "Crap... forget this, I'm just going to stay down here and play with my invisibility ring"
    • So when we bash on M$ winblows we can now say Microsoft© Windows XP ?
  • by rjamestaylor ( 117847 ) <rjamestaylor@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:09PM (#2626795) Journal
    "Comments are owned by the Poster."

    Change to

    "Comments are Opinions owned by the Poster."
    Besides, the best defense may just be, "Hey, this is Slashdot -- you were expecting facts?"

    ;-)

    • Re:New disclaimer: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:59PM (#2627203)
      +5 Funny, yes, but damned good advice all the same. Are you listening, Taco?

      Changing the line to something like

      "All comments are the opinions of the owner and not the property of Slashdot"

      might just save you a world of grief down the line.
        • "The ruling does not mean everything you say on a message board is protected," she said.
        Thus, Taco can't really put that at the bottom, because the court can rule that a post is presented in such a way as to be more factual, and therefore still subject to libel or slander laws.
        • You didn't quote the entire sentence:
          "The ruling does not mean everything you say on a message board is protected," she said. "But, generally, a lot of that talk is along the lines of, 'this stock sucks,' or 'this management sucks.' The Riverside Court said to determine if something is fact or opinion, you must examine the context."
          If the "context" is framed (that's what the disclaimer does; frames the context unambiguously) then this ruling does, in fact, apply.

          Besides, almost every post satisfies the second test: "this xxx sucks", etc.

          • Re:New disclaimer: (Score:4, Informative)

            by TekPolitik ( 147802 ) on Thursday November 29, 2001 @01:07AM (#2629147) Journal
            If the "context" is framed (that's what the disclaimer does; frames the context unambiguously) then this ruling does, in fact, apply.

            The content can counter the disclaimer depending on form. For example, if you say "John Doe raped Jane Bloggs", that will be read as an attempt to state facts rather than an opinion. On the other hand, if you say "I believe John Doe raped Jane Bloggs", it's probably a statement of opinion put together with the disclaimer. If you say "Jane Bloggs was raped. In my opinion, the most likely culprit is John Doe", then the disclaimer isn't even necessary.

            You need to be careful though - in the United States, opinion is absolutely protected in the same way truth is protected, because "there can be no such thing as a false opinion." Here in New South Wales, opinion has unqualified protection under the Defamation Act 1974 (NSW) s32 [austlii.edu.au]. But on the Internet you need to make sure that the web site you publish on is in a jurisdiction that has this unqualified protection of opinion, but as long as it's in such a jurisdiction, and you make no attempt to limit the persons who access your web site, a defendant in another jurisdiction won't be able to touch you, even under their local laws (Kostiuk v. Braintech (1999) 171 DLR (4d) 46).

            You also need to make sure that when making comment you provide the statement of fact that backs it up. For example, if you say "Joe is a person incompetent to hold a position as a public official", you might be nailed in some places. On the other hand, if you say "Joe cannot read. A person who cannot read is incompetent to hold a position as a public official", the provided it's true that Joe can't read, your OK (in fact in this case you'd be OK most anywhere in the English speaking world).

            It's best to make it absolutely clear what part is opinion (or "comment" in defamation terms) and what parts are facts when you're saying something you know somebody might claim is defamatory. This is critical (although less so in the US) - failure to make clear the separation between facts and comments can kill the "fair comment" defence. In some jurisdictions you also have to prove your facts, so it's better to say "I received this email which purports to be from X and says Y" rather than "X sent me this email that says Y".

            Of course it's easier just not to say anything bad about other people, but much more boring.

            IANALY,TINLA

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  • Thank God..imagine someone trying to sue you because you posted a review of their product on a message board. Imagine someone trying to sue you becaues they didn't want others to find out how crappy their product is. Basically, Message Boards = Circle of Protection Law.
  • by cburley ( 105664 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:09PM (#2626800) Homepage Journal
    isn't this ruling just one court's opinion??

  • good except... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mickeyreznor ( 320351 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:10PM (#2626805) Homepage Journal
    it would have been nice if they extended this ruling to include personal web pages, which have been under attack constantly by lawsuits claiming libel and slander, etc.
    • Re:good except... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DrSkwid ( 118965 )
      simple solution

      set up your webpage to look like a message board

      and if anyone tries to post throw up a 500 server error page :)
    • it would have been nice if they extended this ruling to include personal web pages, which have been under attack constantly by lawsuits claiming libel and slander, etc.

      The ruling, or more correctly the principle of law it's based on, is not specific to message boards. The exact same rules apply to any web site - just be careful to provide appropriate facts, demonstrate some public interest and make sure commentary is clearly delineated.

  • With a little luck, this amazing set of insight ought to spill over to user home pages as well.
    • I disagree. Suppose on my personal web page I make the bold (perhaps true) claim that all Ford automobiles are unsafe at any speed, and I do not back up that comment with any reliable evidence. I then make sure my web page appears on all the large search engines so that anyone looking for information about cars can see my web page.

      Although this may be a bit farfetched, suppose that as a direct result of my propaganda, Ford sees a reductions in the sale of cars.

      IMHO, Ford has every right in the world to sue me for loss of business. Since I make an unsubstantiated claim about a firm that has a material impact upon its profitability, surely I am liable for damages.

      • So if your pure opinion web page causes a loss of money to a corporation, your first ammendment rights are trumped? That may be the de facto situation in many cases, but i'd hardly say it's right. If an unsubstantiated claim is enough to cause a noticable sales loss, Ford should sue its PR firm before it sues your site. Now, if you substantiate your claim with lies, they can still sue you for libel.
  • Please post your "This sucks.. hey, that's just my opinion! Ha! Get it? I'm on a message board, and i'm posting an opinion! Bet nobody else thought of making a joke like that!" messages as replies to this one, so the rest of us can ignore them more easily.
  • I guess that Pud at F---ed'd Company [f---edcompany.com] doesn't have anything to worry about anymore!
  • IMHO (Score:4, Funny)

    by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:11PM (#2626817) Homepage Journal
    Note to self: start every comment "IMHO . . ."
  • True or falst: this post is a fact.
  • The courts are starting to smarten up (hopefully). its pretty obvious to most that message boards cant be considered reliable sources per say. I use the info all the time from boards, but i dont get upset and also dont expect it to be 100% accurate. Atleast the courts now realize this. Well one court, but that should follow for the rest of the US and world.
  • The first ammendment is upheld in the courts. Mirroring another reply, good work there in CA on this. :)


  • This offers a welcome relief after the defamation ruling in Victoria, Australia (http://www.zdnet.com.au/newstech/ebusiness/story/ 0,2000024981,20261845,00.htm [zdnet.com.au]) that says anyone anywhere in the world can download material and sue you in their local jurisdiction.
    The California case doesn't deal with jurisdiction, but it offers some blanket protectio
  • new UBB tag (Score:3, Funny)

    by LMCBoy ( 185365 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:13PM (#2626830) Homepage Journal
    How about a new tag for HTML/UBB/whatever:

    <fact>Linux rules, M$ drools!</fact>

    This tag would lend the enclosed text more credence, but also hold the poster responsible for its content.

    heh.
  • that nothing we say here against /. or Katz can get us in trouble?
  • the feverish oversugared lawyers at PrintCafe are trying to sue our favorite dotbomb news site [f---edcompany.com] to get real names of .. "Ex-DLJ", "sucky-me", and "idiot". No joke. Seems they posted some stuff that printcafe no like, and therefore they're trying to get FC's nonexistant posting logs.
  • How can ANYONE believe everything in a forum as fact! 80% of slashdot is BS! :)

    As for the libel comment part...
    Its legal to rip on people/companies if i'm expressing my opinion...
    but if its FACT that the company/person DOES suck... its libel?

    So.. its OK to BS, but illegal to tell the truth hehe
  • But aren't you guys just a little suspicious that this ruling seems impossibly clueful? Did I wake up in a parallel universe this morning, and not notice it until now? There's gotta be some angle on this, like the Supreme Court will have a suprise announcement tomorrow negating this ruling. Something.
  • What about the "sucks" domain name ruling, then - could a case be made such that the "sucks" part of the domain is just an opinion? Anyone remember what jurisdiction this took place in?
  • Whoah.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sj0 ( 472011 )
    The thought that a person could be sued like that is really terrifying... I'm glad that at least some judges are finally realizing that the internet is a medium for two way communication by anyone, rather than a one way medium for rich people and corporatins, like TV.

    I also thought about how if Microsoft were to sue Slashdot...they'd be raking in the ill-gotten gains!
    • what if i were to post this on datek:

      "beware LNUX (va linux systems), their management spends exhorbidant sums of money on 'business trips' to China in order to sodomize pandas"

      the decision as i read it states that anyone who acts on this information should know better, because it is on a message board and is intrinsically opinion rather than fact.

      more sinister, posting:

      "Person X embezzles money from his company. He then uses it to buy drugs which he then sells to children. He funnels the profits to terrorist groups. And he like kiddy p0rn".

      this could hurt X's reputation and may cause people to harm him. however, because of the context, it is not libelous. however, if a newspaper did the same, there would be a lawsuit and the paper would lose. this is a silly double standard, and invites abuse ("sorry that we at the NY Post said that GE stock was going to nosedive without any evidence, but everyone knows that you cannot take this paper seriously...")

      essentially the judge says that nothing on message boards can be taken seriously - not that personal communication must be protected. Their is now a legal precedent that message boards are a joke.
      • IANAL, and I haven't taken the time to find the forums or the offending posts themselves, but it really sounds like the court was just going back to common sense. That is, to be libelous or slanderous, a statement must assert facts, be in such a form and forum that it will be taken seriously, and the facts must be untrue. "X sucks" doesn't assert a fact. Both of your examples do assert facts, not just opinions.

        "Exorbitant spending" is pretty much opinion -- my Scottish ancestors would think my own budget quite exorbitant, but Californian dotcommers with two beamers in the driveway would think I'm a miser. Your statement about pandas asserts a fact, but unless you also claim to be in a particular position to know, it's doubtful that a reasonable person would take it seriously. And if a forum consists mostly of statements like these, only an idiot would take anything posted on it to be a statement of fact.

        "Person X embezzles money from his company" on anything but a humor site is indeed libellous if you don't have a good reason to think it's true. However, the whole example becomes less and less believable as it goes on. On slashdot I wouldn't believe any of it, but in the NY Times I'd figure either there was a reliable source for everything or the editors were about to pay out some big bucks.

        Slashdot gets some well thought out posts by people who actually do know the facts, so don't count on it being taken as opinions only. If you are saying something that sounds at all like a fact, but you don't actually know or have a reliable source, start with "IMO" or something so it is clear that it's an opinion. (And I really, really would appreciate it if certain people would start their posts "I just made up some statistics...")
        • Or, put another way, it brings the 'reasonable person' rule of thumb back into play. Would a reasonable person believe that the executive officers of LNUX fly to china to sodomize pandas? No. However, would a reasonable person believe that they might be using corporate funds to fly to Thailand to partake in it's legendary child sex industry? Sure, THAT'S possible.
  • I think this could be used to circumvent for prosecution for manipulating the stock market by doing such things as hyping or posting false news about a particular company, as long as it was not not "framed as a form of fact". A little bit more serious than libel, yes, but it is a somewhat alarming precedent.
  • by Nerftoe ( 74385 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:15PM (#2626850)
    Fuckedcompany.com [fuckedcompany.com] recently received a subpoena from the lawyers [kl.com] of Printcafe.com [printcafe.com] to cough up "records" of the anonymous posters who made slanderous comments on the site. Some of the comments were directed to the CEO's wife. It seems that Pud (owner of FC) doesn't keep records of the IP addresses of those who frequent the site. Pud said that it was too bad that he already had finished up his book [amazon.com], because they would have received a mention.
    • by mangu ( 126918 )
      A company that's always checking their file systems must have pretty good records of everything.
  • Since the court has deemed such messages ruled it to be "opinnion" rather than "fact" there are other ramifications. Now that such messages are opinnion, they cannot be admitted as factual evidence. An expert witness only has "opinnions" whereas a smoking gun is a "fact" and can be submitted as evidence. Sets an interesting precedent that will affect future non-related legal cases that try to submit such messages as evidence.
  • Wow -- two sensible court opinions in one day! Is the moon full or something?

    :)
    • it's better than that

      this month is a blue moon

      so you can say "two sensible court rulings on the same day only come round once in a blue moon"

      (a blue moon is when two full moons occur in the same month)
    • No, but we do get a blue moon on friday. Kinda fitting actually: 'We only get two sensible court opinions in one day only once in a blue moon'.
  • by www.sorehands.com ( 142825 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:22PM (#2626896) Homepage
    It must be read carefully. You have to keep in mind, that the ruling may change the line between fact and opinion, but not that much.


    The analysis of fact and opinion has been based on context and content. This ruling recognizes the context portion or the analysis. And states that it being in that forum makes it as from a disgruntled stockholder as opposed to someone in "the know" or with authority.


    Even on a web posting, libel can still be found.

  • It's refreshing in this time of corporate neofascism to see clear thinking from legislators and jurists. After all, such websites (/., yahoo, kur05hin, etc...) are known as "forums"--they exist solely for expression of opinion.

    That said, will someone please post a review of the full text of the OT3 manual? I'm interested in your opinion.

  • Since they've been suing everyone and anyone who dared question their cult and all...
    • Nope. They sue to harass, not win. So long as they can force you into court, they're happy

  • Any lawyers here? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 47PHA60 ( 444748 )
    At first I applauded this decision, then I started to wonder, what do I do if 10 people start posting hundreds of negative messages about my company using different accounts? How can I prove that those posts are lies, versus opinions based on real experiences with my business? What if my business has been damaged by this, and I find out who did it? Have I any recourse at all?

    For example, the /. community can help to overcome 'anonymously' planted FUD about linux or OpenBSD, due to our numbers and the fact that many of us feel we have a stake in the outcome.

    What would I, as a business owner, be able to do? I guess that instead of suing, I could politely ask the forum moderator for prominent space to answer the complaints, and challenge the posters to come forward with proof of their bad experience. If they cannot, I could claim victory, otherwise, it may be that I run a bad business. That is, I guess, one purpose of an open forum, but it still concerns me.

    On the other hand, there seem to be so many bad businesses out there making plenty of money, that it is essential that the right to express an opinion is protected.
  • by KarmaBlackballed ( 222917 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:33PM (#2626987) Homepage Journal
    I checked the date, but today is not April 1st. How is it possible that there are two postings on Slashdot today where California, the state with blackout summers and crazy laws, has issued court rulings that make sense! This is crazy. The world must be ending.

    If this shows a trend, I may have to move out that way.
  • That worked out exactly the way it should have. Imagine what it would be like if you were held legally responsible for posts. On the other hand it could get rid of the post trolls on Slashdot
  • by swordboy ( 472941 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:38PM (#2627036) Journal
    Check out this article [theregister.co.uk]. A VW dealership is suing for a post on a message board. Both the poster and the message board have been named in the trial.

  • When judges read these names don't they ever just LAUGH these lawsuits out of court? Isn't our justice system bogged down enough without some jackass trying to sue over some content created by the user and not the actual site creator?

    I read those two names on the top of that very leagal document and could help but to start cracking up. Maybe it's the child in me that likes that childish humor.
  • I don't see how it's a good thing to excuse individuals from responsibility for what they say on the Web.

    Now, in this particular case, I think it's insane that PC maker would sue one of their own disgruntled customers for expressing his disgruntlement. They were idiots to sue, and the suit should have gone nowhere fast. But a blanket assertion that message board contents is strictly a matter of opinion seems like going too far in the other direction.

    So now I've got the freedom to use a message board to say "My Acme widget turned out to suck, the Acme tech support sucked, and I think everyone at Acme has their head up their butt!"

    But Acme can now use the same message board to say "Baba Abhui is a rotten liar. He never even bought our widget, he probably stole a broken one from God-knows-where. He'd beat up his own grandmother for a nickel! And he's a karma whore, too!" Since that's just Acme's opinion, there's nothing I can do.

    The real problem is libelous companies that use their superior resources to quell individual troublemakers. If a large corporation brings libel or slander charges against me, they'll end up hurting me (time and money) even if they actually lose the case. Maybe what's needed is some mechanism to stem the tide of frivolous lawsuits like this, rather than a blanket assertion that what you say on the web just doesn't count.
    • But Acme can now use the same message board to say "Baba Abhui is a rotten liar. He never even bought our widget, he probably stole a broken one from God-knows-where. He'd beat up his own grandmother for a nickel! And he's a karma whore, too!" Since that's just Acme's opinion, there's nothing I can do.

      Yes, what's the problem with that? People would give it just as much credence (or less) as your assertion that Acme widgets suck. That's speech. If either of you offered evidence, it would no longer be opinion. The validity of the evidence would decide whether it was libel or not.
  • I wonder how this will affect stock trading message boards. This boy [slashdot.org] used message boards to talk up certain stocks, and I'm sure that its no worse than the crap stock analysts on cnbc or msnbc say. However, this ruling on message boards may not apply due to the fact it affects the stock market.
  • you mean that no one _really_ poured hot grits into natalie portmann's pants? i'm shocked....

    -BlueLines
  • So now that EULA resale restrictions and message board libel are out, what's next? Will CA rule that Microsoft should be punished and not rewarded for its crimes? Will it take a swing at the DMCA? Will a massive earthquake send it to the bottom of the ocean? (Ok, so that one isn't exactly related, but it is probably just as likely...)
  • Huh (Score:3, Funny)

    by BillyGoatThree ( 324006 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @05:54PM (#2627176)
    IANAL, but I bet this means we can all stop saying "IANAL".
  • That what's posted on slashdot are merely opinions about the superiority of certain operating systems?
  • by AtariDatacenter ( 31657 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @06:03PM (#2627231)
    And for a great example of a case of this going on right now, head on over to Fucked Company [fuckedcompany.com] where some dot.bomb is trying to get FC to reveal the names of some anonymous posters who said bad things about the company and the CEO's wife.
  • I'd think it would be obvious.

    If I say 'CompuShop SUCKS' that's an opinion.
    If I say 'CompuShop ripped me off for $500 and regularly fucks over it's customers', thats a statement of fact.
    The former cannot get me sued. The latter (if untrue) can.

    How does the fact that it's posted on a chat group matter at all?
  • In other news the sun rose today, and fire is still hot...

    Seriously, why is this necessarily an unexpected event? In order to prove libel, I believe you must show that the person knew what they were presenting was false, and that they intended to cause harm. I think there's some additional requirements, too, like they must be identifiable to someone else and the material needs to be published/disseminated.

    If I have a bad experience with Microsoft software and post my problems to a web site, that is NOT libel. If I say "Oracle sucks", well, I suppose Oracle could sue, but "sucks" is obviously my opinion. If I published a report on the web showing MS SQL Server as being 50% faster than Oracle, despite having results showing otherwise, then I probably *would* be guilty of libel.

    Venting your frustration with a company on /. or fsckedcompany.com or some other venue is NOT libel, unless you're intentionally lying about a company, and even then, there may be a level of subjectiveness.

    BTW, IANAL, but I play one on TV.
  • Interesting that court decisions are also called opinions. In fact, Bush's presidency is just a majority opinion. Gore is president too, according to a dissenting opinion.

    So I guess we can't sue the court for libel now either...
  • by pangloss ( 25315 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @06:41PM (#2627419) Journal
    Given the page views at vwvortex [vwvortex.com], i'm sure many have heard of the lawsuit that the Jim Ellis VW dealership in Atlanta, Georgia brought against George Mantis. The dealership sued Mantis recently, alleging that the comments Mantis posted to a VW web forum were libelous/slanderous.

    If you haven't already, I highly recommend you have a read (although the length of the thread at this point easily rivals some of the longest ever seen even on /.). It started out with a few disgruntled customers, and when the dealership tried to snuff the thread by serving papers to both Mantis and VWvortex, it became a giant stink, with international media coverage and even a grassroots legal defense fund. If you look at the timestamps about 7 pages in, you really get a sense of how fast and across how many vectors information can travel.

    FYI: The dealership seems to be backtracking now, and supposedly will be in settlement talks this Friday. Hopefully this translates into an even stronger position for Mantis to deal from.
  • by rice_burners_suck ( 243660 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2001 @06:43PM (#2627432)

    Disclaimer: The following comments represent opinion only and should NOT be regarded as statements of fact, slander or libel:

    Microsoft SUCKS ! Windows SUCKS ! MSN SUCKS ! Internet Explorer SUCKS ! Passport SUCKS ! .NET SUCKS ! [insert name of Microsoft product here] SUCKS !

    The following, however, are statements of fact:

    Linux ROCKS! FreeBSD ROCKS! NetBSD ROCKS! OpenBSD ROCKS! Darwin ROCKS! Amiga ROCKS! BeOS ROCKS! IceWM ROCKS! vi ROCKS! Opera for Linux ROCKS! Qmail ROCKS! csh ROCKS! [insert name of UN*X program here] ROCKS!

    Oh well.

    • And that one was in your fact column, too! Does this mean I can hold you liable for all the time I wasted writing csh scripts? I wonder what kind of hourly damages I can collect...
    • I really hope you didn't use Front Page to post that comment.
      • I really hope you didn't use Front Page to post that comment.

        No, in fact I did not use Front Page to post that comment. I used Opera 5.0 for Linux, running on FreeBSD 4.4-RELEASE, with XFree86 4, IceWM, and a csh in the background somewhere. Unlike some folks, I actually use the software I advocate. And why do you suppose I advocate it? Because it ROCKS!!!

        I don't use Front Page because, and the following is a statement of opinion and as such should NOT be considered a statement of fact, slander or libel: Front Page SUCKS!

        Oh well.

  • that sees the irony in the fact that court decisions are called opinions and not facts? If I am, it must be the caffeine...

  • http://www.aquaria.net/lawsuit.html contains details about a current issue where the company "Pets Warehouse" has a $15,000,000 lawsuit filed against a dozen or so members of the "Aquatic Plants Digest" mailing list. In my opinion, the defendants were complaining in a manner typical of the complaints about various business one would see in message forums across the internet (bad service, dont shop here, blah blah blah). This lawsuit is real and the defendants have all been served. This lawsuit seems to be even more frivolous than the one mentioned in the newsbyte article.

    maru

Byte your tongue.

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