Blogs win US libel immunity

California Supreme Court dismisses claim for third party postings on websites

Bloggers and US internet providers are not liable for defamatory remarks written by third parties posted on their websites, the California Supreme Court has ruled.

Overturning an earlier decision by the San Francisco appeal court, the court ruled that people claiming they were defamed online could only sue the original author of the comments not the website on which it appeared. The case involved a health activist who posted someone else’s letter on her web site, which was alleged to contain defamatory remarks about two doctors. The activist was sued – as well as the original author of the letter – for libel.

The decision was based upon a US Federal law that provided that providers of chat rooms or news groups are not to be considered the publishers of information provided by others. s.230 of the Communications Decency Act states that “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”.

The Court noted, “the prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements on the Internet has disturbing implications. Nevertheless … statutory immunity serves to protect online freedom of expression and to encourage self-regulation, as Congress intended.” 

Some of the internet’s biggest names including Google, Amazon and eBay supported the woman in her defence of the claim given the obvious implications for their potential exposure for publication of comments of third parties on their respective websites.

Click here for the 5RB case report and the full judgment.